Ten “comfort episodes” of Star Trek for difficult days

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Original Series Season 2, The Voyage Home, The Next Generation Season 6, Deep Space Nine Season 6, Voyager Season 4, Enterprise Season 2, Short Treks, Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, and Prodigy Season 1.
Phew. That was a lot!

The world can be a crappy place, and not just because of wars and pandemics. Sometimes we all need to switch off from current events and seek out some escapism. For me, films and TV shows with very heavy themes, lots of violence, or dark narratives don’t always provide the best escape, and on days when my mental health suffers I find myself reaching for something lighter and comforting. On this occasion, I thought we could pick out a few Star Trek stories that I believe fit that description.

The Star Trek franchise has long been an escape from reality for me. In both its older and modern incarnations, I find that jumping head-first into a future that looks safer and better than anything we could imagine today feels pretty great! Star Trek has always had an underlying setting that feels optimistic and hopeful for a better tomorrow – and that’s something we all need to hear sometimes.

So with that in mind, let’s consider a few Star Trek stories that I believe make for lighter, comforting viewing. As always, this isn’t a ranked list; the episodes are listed below in the order they were first broadcast.

Number 1:
A Piece of the Action
The Original Series Season 2

Captain Kirk as you may not have seen him before!

The Original Series made very creative use of some of the limitations of its time! It wasn’t always possible to visit a brand-new planet every week that looked and felt very “alien,” so The Original Series used sets intended for other films and TV shows in different – and occasionally silly – ways. A Piece of the Action sees Captain Kirk and the crew encounter a planet whose entire population have based their society around the Chicago mob!

When A Piece of the Action was written, the 1920s were only forty years in the past – the equivalent today of the eighties! So perhaps to viewers at the time it was more relevant and less… camp. But I’ve always found A Piece of the Action to have a light, almost comedic flair simply because of its setting; the ’20s-inspired dialogue, the old fashioned suits, and the general tone of a “Golden Age of Hollywood” gangster flick all contribute to that.

Spock and Dr McCoy with Tommy guns.

The notion of going to a faraway planet in space and finding a society based on the Chicago mob is silly, but A Piece of the Action sells it in the best way it can, making the very odd juxtaposition of scenes aboard the Enterprise and scenes on Sigma Iotia II flow surprisingly well. But above all, it’s a fun story that imitates, in a very Star Trek way, classic mobster films from a generation earlier.

Apparently A Piece of the Action was going to be the basis for a Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film that ultimately didn’t enter production. It seems as though I’m in a minority, based on the reactions to this news from Trekkies I’ve spoken with, but I’d have been interested to see what a director as undeniably talented as Tarantino would’ve brought to Star Trek. A new film from such a big name would surely have been a box office draw, at the very least! But maybe that should be the topic of a longer article sometime.

Number 2:
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Dr McCoy and Scotty in 1986.

Also known as “the one with the whales,” The Voyage Home is arguably the most lighthearted and fun of all the Star Trek films to date! After the very heavy stories of loss and death in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, the third and final act of this trilogy came along like a breath of fresh air. I feel that The Voyage Home is the most dated of the Star Trek films thanks to being set in what was, at the time, the modern day. But that doesn’t detract from it; the kitschy eighties flavour is all part of the appeal!

There are some fantastic moments of pure comedy in The Voyage Home. I won’t spoil them if it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, but suffice to say that bringing a 23rd Century crew to the modern day and forcing them to interact with basic things like cash and computers led to some absolutely hilarious, iconic moments.

HMS Bounty makes it home.

There’s an ecological message at the heart of The Voyage Home, and the threat posed by the alien “whale probe” is definitely serious. But that theme doesn’t present as excessively weighty, and by the time Kirk and the gang are running around San Fransisco in 1986, the focus is more on the fun side of that premise.

With Star Trek: Picard Season 2 fast approaching, it could be fun to go back to The Voyage Home to see the most recent use of the “slingshot method” of travelling through time – something that may be making a return to Star Trek very soon!

Number 3:
Relics
The Next Generation Season 6

Cheers!

I wanted to put at least one crossover episode on this list, and this time it’s Relics that makes the cut! Bringing Scotty into The Next Generation was a lot of fun, and having him overcome his “fish out of water” status to eventually work alongside Geordi La Forge was absolutely fantastic, and made for a wonderful, heartwarming story.

With no evil villain to defeat nor a war to fight, Relics posed a scientific puzzle for Star Trek’s first two engineers to overcome – and in the process they were able to save the Enterprise-D from being trapped inside of a Dyson Sphere! There’s definitely a message in Relics: that older people have a lot to contribute if younger people are willing to take the time to listen.

Star Trek’s first two engineers teamed up for this adventure.

When I first saw Relics back in the ’90s, I wasn’t prepared for Scotty’s arrival. This was before the days of spoilers on social media, so I went into the episode completely unaware of what I was about to see. When Scotty materialised on the transporter pad for the first time I was absolutely blown away! The Next Generation had been my first port of call in the early ’90s, but by the time Relics came around I’d seen all of The Original Series films and quite a few episodes, so I was really excited when it turned out to be a crossover episode.

Relics is, in a lot of ways, a very fan-servicey episode. But it’s also a comforting one, and more than that it feels almost like a slice of pure Star Trek. There’s a scientific mystery that’s both interesting and exciting, there are some wonderful character moments between Scotty and Picard and Scotty and La Forge in particular, there’s more than a dash of humour, and there’s an underlying message that may just strike a chord with some folks in the real world. It’s an all-around Star Trek episode!

Number 4:
The Magnificent Ferengi
Deep Space Nine Season 6

Aren’t they magnificent?

The Magnificent Ferengi takes what should be a dark and upsetting premise but manages to put a lighthearted, comedic spin on it thanks to the inclusion of the titular Ferengi. After a less than spectacular introduction in the first season of The Next Generation, in which they were originally supposed to replace the newly-pacified Klingons and become a major antagonist, the Ferengi carved themselves a new niche in Deep Space Nine thanks in no small part to a wonderful performance by Armin Shimerman as Quark.

We came to see the Ferengi as comic relief on a number of occasions, as in The Magnificent Ferengi, but they were also a people with depth. Issues within Ferengi society surrounding the pursuit of wealth at all costs, the second-class status of women, and so on were topics that Deep Space Nine tackled, and the fact that the Ferengi can be funny didn’t detract from those attempts to use them to examine some more serious subjects. But that’s not why we’re here today!

Quark and Keevan.

At the height of the Dominion War, Quark and Rom’s mother is captured by the Dominion, and Quark leads an all-Ferengi rescue operation. With the exception of Grand Nagus Zek, this episode brings together practically every Deep Space Nine Ferengi character, and musician Iggy Pop has a guest-starring role.

The plot descends into a comedic farce – naturally, given Quark’s leadership – and if you’ve ever seen Weekend at Bernie’s… well, you know what to expect! The Magnificent Ferengi is a ton of fun, and a great episode for showcasing some of Deep Space Nine’s recurring characters.

Number 5:
Message in a Bottle
Voyager Season 4

Two Emergency Medical Holograms!

Once again we have an episode with a potentially dark premise that goes in a very different and fun direction! The Doctor is the star here, as he’s sent to the Alpha Quadrant to attempt to make contact with Starfleet for the first time since Captain Janeway and the crew became stranded 75,000 light-years from home… but he finds himself aboard a ship that has been captured by the Romulans!

Comedian Andy Dick guest-stars as a newer version of the Emergency Medical Hologram, and forms an astonishingly funny pair with the Doctor, who was often used for moments of comic relief during Voyager’s run. Seeing the two holograms working together to outsmart the Romulans in a comic story that could verge into slapstick is absolutely hilarious, and there are some real laugh-out-loud moments.

The Doctor and his fellow EMH.

I also find Message in a Bottle to be a very uplifting episode. It marks the halfway point of Voyager’s seven-season run, and the first moment that the crew are able to contact the Federation. After four years of being alone, the crew finally get to inform Starfleet that they’re okay and working their way home, and there’s something incredible about the episode’s closing moments as a result.

The Prometheus-class ship is a pretty cool inclusion, too – a brand-new class of ship which has features that even the USS Voyager or Enterprise-E couldn’t match. I always wanted to see more from this ship, but aside from a couple of background appearances, we haven’t yet!

Number 6:
Carbon Creek
Enterprise Season 2

Vulcans… in the fifties!

Carbon Creek uses a frame narrative to tell the story of the first time Vulcans came to Earth… and it wasn’t in the mid-21st Century, as Captain Archer (and us as the audience) had been led to believe! Instead, T’Pol tells the tale of her great-grandmother, and how she and a small crew came to be stranded on Earth in the 1950s during a survey mission.

Carbon Creek is fun for its fifties atmosphere, and Enterprise really manages to nail that feel through some wonderful sets, costumes, and dialogue. It’s also an episode that shows off how Vulcans can be unintentionally funny in Star Trek, particularly when confronted with different or unusual situations. In this case, T’Mir and her crew have to blend in with a town of very emotional humans.

Cheers!

There are definitely some lighthearted moments scattered through the entire episode, and the frame of T’Pol recounting the story to a stunned Archer and Tucker adds to that as well. It’s also a great example of how a prequel story doesn’t have to tread on the toes of anything established previously; nothing in Carbon Creek fundamentally changes what we already know about first contact between humans and Vulcans. In many ways it expands it – knowing that Vulcan had humanity under observation decades ahead of official first contact gives them a reason to be surveying the area during the events of First Contact!

All in all, a fun episode that steps away from many of Star Trek’s familiar elements like starships to tell a story with some interesting characters in a fun setting.

Number 7:
Ephraim and DOT
Short Treks Season 2

Ephraim and DOT.

It’s a shame that we haven’t seen more Short Treks lately; the most recent batch of episodes ended with Children of Mars shortly before Picard Season 1 kicked off in early 2020. The idea of telling one-shot short stories in the Star Trek galaxy may have been a fairly blunt and obvious way for CBS All Access (since rebranded as Paramount+) to convince Trekkies to remain subscribed in between seasons of the main Star Trek shows, but several episodes ended up being fantastic in their own right.

Ephraim and DOT was one of two animated Short Treks episodes that were broadcast in December 2019, and it’s something that we hadn’t really seen the Star Trek franchise do before. Thirty-five years after The Animated Series went off the air, this was Star Trek’s first return to animation, and where The Girl Who Made The Stars was more of a conventional story, Ephraim and DOT was framed very differently!

A well-earned hug.

Telling the story of a tardigrade named Ephraim and a DOT-type robot aboard the USS Enterprise, this Disney-inspired tale sees the unlikely duo team up to save Ephraim’s eggs. With an enthusiastic narrator who sounds like they’ve come from a National Geographic documentary, the short story is a lot of fun – and packs a surprisingly emotional punch at its climax!

Ephraim and DOT also shows off a handful of fun clips from The Original Series that have been reimagined for animation, and this “greatest hits” montage was absolutely fantastic; a blast from the past that elevated the episode.

Number 8:
Nepenthe
Picard Season 1

Picard and Riker embrace.

If you don’t have the same connection to the characters from The Next Generation that I do, maybe Nepenthe won’t be one of your “comfort episodes.” But for me, seeing Picard reunited with Riker and Troi was one of the highlights of Picard Season 1 – and Nepenthe is one of the best Star Trek episodes that I’ve seen in a long time!

After several tense and dramatic episodes in which Picard and the crew of La Sirena had to unpick the mystery of Bruce Maddox, the synths, the Zhat Vash plot, and so on, Picard was able to rescue Soji and use a spatial trajector to escape to the planet of Nepenthe – home to Riker, Troi, and their daughter Kestra.

Kestra and Soji.

There are some very sweet moments between Soji and Kestra as they bond, and while the story has some very bittersweet moments as we learn that Riker and Troi’s elder child had passed away, there are some absolutely incredible and heartwarming character moments as well. After more than eighteen years away from the 24th Century, Nepenthe felt like the homecoming I had been waiting for.

Seeing Riker and Troi enjoying a peaceful life away from Starfleet was something that I needed to see, even if I didn’t realise it beforehand! Although there were issues with the Picard Season 1 finale that meant that, realistically, taking an entire episode away from the main plot to slow down and hang out with Picard, Riker, Troi, and Soji was arguably a mistake, I just can’t find it in my heart to fault Nepenthe for the way it comes across on screen. It’s a beautiful, emotional episode, and sitting down to eat pizza with the characters after everything they’ve been through just feels right.

Number 9:
First First Contact
Lower Decks Season 2

Tendi and Dr T’Ana.

First First Contact might be my favourite episode of Lower Decks so far. It isn’t as hilarious as some of the show’s other offerings, but as an uplifting story with a real “Star Trek” feel, I don’t think it can be bettered! The episode sees the crew of the Cerritos teamed up with the fancier and more powerful USS Archimedes – under the command of one Captain Sonya Gomez, no less – to undertake their first ever mission of first contact!

But naturally, things don’t go to plan. The Cerritos is called into action to save the stricken Archimedes, and the entire crew pulls together to perform the very difficult and dangerous task of literally stripping off the ship’s outer hull! Lower Decks ditched its usual two (or three) storylines format here, and put all four ensigns and all of the ship’s senior staff in the same story – and the result was absolutely fantastic.

The USS Cerritos and the USS Archimedes.

Lower Decks goes out of its way to recreate the look of The Next Generation era, and I’ve always appreciated that. But it doesn’t hesitate to bring new things to the table, and we get our first look at Cetacean Ops in this episode – an aquatic department that had been mentioned in background dialogue in The Next Generation but never seen on screen.

All four ensigns have roles to play in the story, and after the Cerritos had to be saved at the climax of the Season 1 finale, the poetic symmetry of being the one to save a disabled Starfleet ship was absolutely beautiful, and a great way to bring the show’s successful second season to a close.

Number 10:
Kobayashi
Prodigy Season 1

Dal and Jankom Pog with a holographic Dr Crusher.

The Kobayashi Maru test seems like an odd choice for a “comfort” pick, doesn’t it? But the way Prodigy pulls it off feels like a love letter to Star Trek, bringing in classic characters from The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine in holographic form.

There’s more going on in the episode than just the Kobayashi Maru test on the holodeck, and Prodigy’s ongoing story arcs come into play in a big way throughout. But for me, the moments on the holodeck with Dal and the holographic versions of some wonderful characters from Star Trek’s past are what elevates Kobayashi and what makes it so enjoyable.

Uhura!

It’s such a shame that Prodigy remains (officially) unavailable in most of the world, because it’s been one of the most surprisingly fun Star Trek projects, and despite its kid-friendly atmosphere and intended audience, there’s so much to love for Trekkies. I hope that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally will see Prodigy grow in popularity and bring in hordes of new fans – and with episodes as strong as Kobayashi to ease them into the world of Star Trek, there’s a good chance that’ll happen!

The character choices may seem like an odd mix at first – and seeing Odo on the bridge of a Galaxy-class ship definitely felt strange! But each of them is given a moment to showcase their strengths, and what they brought to Star Trek in their original appearances. It makes the entire holodeck sequence feel so very special – and with such an eclectic mix of characters, there really isn’t anything quite like it in Star Trek’s entire official canon!

So that’s it!

The original USS Enterprise.

Those are my picks for ten “comfort episodes” – or rather, nine comfort episodes and a comfort film – from the Star Trek franchise. We don’t need to repeat why the world feels so messed up right now, because we can all see what’s going on. Certain news stories have become omnipresent, completely taking over social media and other apps. If you find yourself doomscrolling, take a break. Do anything other than wallow in the mess of the real world.

The Star Trek franchise has been my comfort place for decades, and I find myself drawn to it when the world feels too much or when my mental health suffers. A future where humanity has succeeded at conquering not only the problems of today but also many of the baser, more primitive aspects of our own nature holds an appeal that can be difficult to put into words, and I find that practically every Star Trek story – even those darker in tone – have a lot to offer.

So I hope this was a bit of fun and maybe gave you some viewing inspiration! I had a great time going back to these episodes to put this list together, and with everything going on in the world I thought it could be a good time to share something like this.

The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and films discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 5

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Short Treks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

After a couple of weeks where Discovery took character-focused detours, The Examples brought the story right back to the DMA – the dark matter anomaly that’s wreaking havoc across the galaxy. We learned something incredibly significant this week that will most likely have a huge impact on the season’s main storyline… but is everything as it seems?

The biggest question I have right now is about Unknown Species 10-C. Who could they be? And are they a faction we’ve encountered in a past iteration of Star Trek? My heart wants to say they’re someone familiar; that all of the callbacks and references we’ve had in Season 4 so far are building to some kind of big reveal. But my head says “no” – Unknown Species 10-C will turn out to be someone new and unpredictable.

But enough about that for now! We have several theories that were advanced by The Examples this week, as well as one that was debunked and one that was at least partially confirmed. So let’s take a look at those and then get into the main list!

Debunked theory:
Dr Culber will tell Stamets that he needs to slow down.

Stamets and Culber in The Examples.

This one surprised me by being a complete inversion of what I was expecting! After Stamets had seemingly gotten lost in his work, overworking himself desperately trying to figure out the DMA, I felt sure that Dr Culber would have something to say. In Choose To Live, Stamets missed out on Gray’s incorporation, and wasn’t there to support Adira. In All Is Possible, he missed out on talking with Tilly before she left the ship.

I felt that Stamets perhaps needed someone – particularly the man he loves – to intervene and warn him about the dangers of overworking and the family moments he’s been missing. Instead it was Stamets who helped Dr Culber: Discovery’s doctor has been throwing himself into his work, too, neglecting his own mental health for the sake of his patients. It was a neat reversal of a storyline I was expecting – and I think we’ll see more in this vein from Stamets and Culber before the end of the season.

Confirmed theory:
The DMA is a super-weapon.

The moment at which the DMA’s artificial nature was confirmed.

Though it was arguably a conclusion that was arrived at too quickly near the beginning of The Examples, Stamets and Captain Burnham confirmed – thanks to some help from Zora – that the DMA is not a natural phenomenon. Though a natural disaster would have been an interesting story in itself, this always felt like the direction of travel for Discovery, so I wasn’t exactly stunned to learn this!

At present, Captain Burnham and Starfleet are working on the assumption that the DMA is a super-weapon – something I’d been predicting ever since we first heard that some kind of anomaly was going to be a major part of Season 4. Right now, that seems like a logical assumption – and it may very well be true. But as we’ll discuss in a moment, even though the assumption right now is that the DMA is a super-weapon, that may not actually prove to be the case. I can think of several ways in which the DMA could be artificial yet not a weapon! But for now, since Captain Burnham, Admiral Vance, and everyone else on the show are content to assume it’s a super-weapon of some kind, I’m calling this theory confirmed!

So those theories were debunked and confirmed.

Now we’ll get into the main list, beginning with the theories that are either brand-new or which saw significant movement in The Examples.

Theory #1:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

This week we got a few lines from Zora – the USS Discovery’s shipboard AI that we first met in Calypso. Zora was involved in confirming the DMA’s artificial nature, but later in the episode we got something far more significant thanks to a short conversation with Captain Burnham: Zora has begun to experience emotions.

In Calypso, Zora was definitely an emotional life-form, so this evolution in their (her?) personality is a significant step toward Calypso – and one that I hadn’t really considered until after it had happened. Until now, the Zora aboard the USS Discovery had been different from the Zora we’d met in Calypso, but after this week’s episode we’re a big step closer to reconciling the two presentations of the character.

There are still significant hurdles to overcome if the story of Calypso is to be wrapped up in Season 4, though. Obviously we have the timeframe issue: will the USS Discovery be sent back in time, be abandoned, or is Calypso taking place centuries in the future? Then we have the USS Discovery itself – it’s been retrofitted since arriving in the 32nd Century, and now looks very different to how it did in Calypso. Despite all that, however, a connection is one step closer today than it was last week.

Theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora.

Sticking with Zora, their newfound emotions are a very interesting – and somewhat alarming – addition to the season’s storyline. When Data first installed his emotion chip in Generations, he found the new emotions overwhelming and impossible to cope with at first – could something similar be about to happen to Zora? Will they fail the crew at a key moment? Even worse, might Zora go rogue and become a villain?

The dangerous nature of artificial intelligence has been a theme Star Trek has returned to time and again since The Original Series episode The Ultimate Computer all the way back in 1968. But recent iterations of Star Trek in particular have used narratives involving evil or out-of-control AIs and synthetic life several times: there were the rogue synths and the super-synths in Star Trek: Picard’s first season, and in Discovery’s second season we had the Control AI.

Zora told Captain Burnham of a “recent development” in The Examples.

Captain Burnham seemed concerned at Zora’s newfound emotions, but had other things on her mind so didn’t have time to deal with it then and there. What might be even more concerning, though, is the fact that Zora chose to conceal that fact for a time, choosing not to share their most recent evolution.

Perhaps a storyline like this would feel repetitive coming after Season 2 had to deal with Control. But I think it could be made to work, and it could even be made to fit in with Calypso with a bit of creative writing! Whether this theory comes to pass or not, though, I think we’re going to see something significant from Zora before the end of Season 4.

Theory #3:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

The DMA as seen in Anomaly.

Okay, I know! I just said that the DMA is a super-weapon and patted myself on the back for successfully predicting that story beat months ago! But here’s the thing… the DMA being artificial in nature doesn’t mean that it’s a weapon, despite the assumptions made by Captain Burnham, Admiral Vance, and others.

The DMA could be an out-of-control experiment, perhaps something designed to allow faster-than-light travel without the need for dilithium. Stamets and Ruon Tarka suspect that it possesses the technology to create a synthetic wormhole, something that could be very useful for travelling in a dilithium-poor galaxy.

An accident or an experiment gone wrong would set up a very different kind of story to a super-weapon, one that would replace a villainous adversary with a puzzle of a scientific nature. That could be a fun and interesting way for the season to go – not to mention that it would be subversive and challenging to the audience’s expectations.

Theory #4:
The DMA is a life-form.

The USS Enterprise and V’Ger in The Motion Picture.

The DMA could also turn out to be a life-form in its own right, perhaps a synthetic one or something akin to The Motion Picture’s V’Ger. If that were the case it may not be attacking anyone, but simply exploring or trying to make contact. After all, “they were only trying to communicate” has become a Star Trek trope at this point!

Star Trek has shown us many different forms of synthetic life over the years, and while the DMA would certainly be one of the most unusual, it wouldn’t be entirely without precedent. Seeking out new life is at the very core of Starfleet’s mission, and finding a way to communicate with the DMA and figure out what it wants or needs could be a very interesting story – one about understanding and bridging the chasm between different cultures and societies that Star Trek has always done so well.

Theory #5:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could the Borg have built the DMA?

Regardless of the intention behind the DMA, it does indeed appear to be an artificial construct. Whoever created it had a reason for doing so, even if that reason isn’t clear right now! But who could be responsible?

I recently put together a list of suspects, and I strongly encourage you to check out the full list by clicking or tapping here.

If you don’t have time for that, here’s the condensed version: the Borg, the Sphere-Builders from Enterprise, the super-synths from Picard Season 1, the Kelvan Empire, Section 31, and Species 8472 are just some of the possible culprits. For a more detailed version, check out the full list linked above.

Theory #6:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

We didn’t see President Rillak this week, though she was briefly mentioned by Admiral Vance. But when I think about the possible suspects for creating the DMA, the Federation – and by extension, President Rillak – are unquestionably on that list.

President Rillak is a cunning, almost Machiavellian politician, willing to do anything to advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation. I believe Captain Burnham needs to be very careful with President Rillak. During the events of All Is Possible, working with Captain Burnham was advantageous to the Federation’s president – but I have no doubt that she’d throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus without so much as blinking if she believed it would be to her advantage. Which brings us to the DMA.

President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or if it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation. Also, with the goal of reuniting the Federation foremost in her mind, President Rillak may prove to be the sort of uncompromising politician who’d willingly unleash destruction upon the galaxy if she believed that doing so would serve a greater purpose.

Theory #7:
Dr Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Dr Kovich in The Examples.

I freely admit that this theory is barely clinging on right now, but I don’t believe it’s been completely disproven just yet! The questions of who Dr Kovich is and what exactly his role is within Starfleet and/or the Federation have no clear answer right now. He’s clearly someone with power and influence, as we’ve seen him working with Admiral Vance and seemingly being able to appoint anyone he chooses to be an instructor at Starfleet Academy. Yet he also seems to have some medical training, serving as a psychologist or counsellor – and it’s in this capacity that we saw him this week.

Because of the unclear nature of his role and the mysterious, stoic presentation from David Cronenberg, Dr Kovich is still an enigma. He’s also the kind of man who could potentially be an agent of Section 31. If it turns out that the Federation, President Rillak, and/or Section 31 are involved with the DMA, perhaps we’ll learn that Dr Kovich is as well. Or perhaps such a storyline will finally put this theory to bed once and for all!

Theory #8:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Now that we know the DMA is artificial in nature, the question shifts to who built it and why. We’ve covered the idea of it being a weapon or an out-of-control experiment, as well as being a life-form in its own right. It could also be the responsibility of Section 31 or the Federation. But because this is Star Trek: Discovery, a show which likes to put Captain Burnham at the centre of its stories, perhaps there’s a connection to her that we’re missing.

The Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 were phenomenally powerful machines, capable of generating time-wormholes large enough to transport an entire starship 930 years into the future. We already know that the DMA potentially contains a synthetic wormhole, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to connect the two. We also don’t know for certain what became of Captain Burnham’s Red Angel suit after the Season 3 premiere. There’s also the faint possibility of a parallel universe Burnham or time travelling Burnham being responsible.

Theory #9:
Stamets and Ruon Tarka will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Stamets and Tarka on my list of suspects a couple of days ago, but they warrant a full entry on the theory list too! In short, we saw Stamets and Ruon Tarka creating a scale model of the DMA in The Examples, and according to Reno their experiment came very close to destroying the entire ship. They were able to perfectly recreate the device at the centre of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale – so what’s to prevent them from building a full-scale replica?

This theory suggests that they will – somehow – and that doing so will set into motion a chain of events that leads to the creation of the DMA in a kind of time-loop storyline. The DMA’s wormhole-generating technology may give it the ability to travel backwards through time as well as across vast distances, so it seems technologically plausible at the very least.

Tarka and Stamets working on their model.

Ruon Tarka was shown as impatient in The Examples, and in his single-minded pursuit of the DMA he may be willing to take risks – perhaps risks which ultimately lead to the creation of the very anomaly he’s been investigating. How such a story would conclude is up in the air, but I don’t think we can rule it out as a possibility right now.

Personally, I find time-loop paradox storylines to be frustrating – and they can be very difficult to pull off successfully. There’s no beginning point to such a story: the DMA exists because the DMA was created because the DMA exists because the DMA was created… it’s an infinite loop. But we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel stories like this before – and the pieces seem to be in play right now for this story.

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

As always, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So up next we’ll recap all of the other Season 4 theories that are currently in play. I find it helpful to keep the full list going like this – it makes it easier to keep track of all of the theories as they get confirmed or debunked.

Theory #10:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

Theory #10a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

After arriving at the Abronians’ cryo-ship, Captain Burnham found a stone carving that seemed to depict the destruction of the Abronians’ homeworld. This carving was only shown on screen briefly, but it seemed to show the planet being damaged or destroyed in a large explosion. Burnham credited the planet’s destruction to a “supernova,” and the story then raced ahead.

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova.

Theory #10b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

One clip in the second Season 4 trailer appeared to show Captain Burnham leading the USS Discovery inside the DMA. We don’t yet know what that means, nor to what extent words like “inside” the anomaly or “the other side” of the anomaly are even coherent concepts. But many times in past iterations of Star Trek we’ve seen things like wormholes and gateways to parallel universes. Perhaps the anomaly is something similar – and passing through it leads to a different dimension, parallel reality, or just a faraway region of space.

One thing struck me as odd about the Abronians: the Federation was entirely unaware of them, despite the Abronian cryo-ship being relatively close to Federation space – such that Captain Burnham could reach it using Book’s ship in a short span of time. It’s possible that the Abronians had been asleep for millennia, unnoticed by the Federation and the wider galaxy for all that time. But it’s also at least possible that their cryo-ship is a newcomer to the area. If so, perhaps it arrived here via the DMA.

Theory #10c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

One of the themes of Discovery since Season 3 has been connection, including building connections between the Federation and other races and organisations. The Abronians were awoken from cryo-sleep thanks to the interventions of Captain Burnham and Tilly – at least in part – and they may seek to repay the Federation, or Captain Burnham personally, for that help.

We saw this play out last season with Ni’Var; in the season finale Ni’Var ships raced to the Federation’s aid as the Emerald Chain attacked. Perhaps the Abronians will likewise step up to help when the Federation needs allies.

Theory #10d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

At this stage I can’t envision precisely what use Captain Burnham and the crew might have for a moon-sized starship… but that doesn’t mean such a need won’t arise! The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed something that large for some purpose, perhaps they’ll return and either take it or negotiate for it.

As we saw in Choose To Live, the moon-ship was in full working order. All it needed was some extra dilithium to power up and it was perfectly capable of moving under its own power, and its computer systems were still functional. The only system that seemed to have failed was the wake-up timer! So if – for reasons yet unknown – the crew need a huge starship, perhaps we won’t have seen the last of the moon-ship.

Theory #11:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Book and Kyheem in Season 3.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. We don’t know what the DMA is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: is there more to the DMA than meets the eye? If the anomaly is just an extreme example of space weather, flitting through Federation space destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in its way, then probably everyone on Kwejian is dead. But if the anomaly harbours some kind of gateway, wormhole, portal, time vortex, or any of the other Star Trek-y technobabble phenomena that we’ve seen across the franchise’s history, then it’s possible that at least some of the folks on Kwejian found themselves transported to whatever realm lies inside of the anomaly.

Theory #12:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer in the episode Anomaly. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship. This could also set the stage for his departure from the show, or possibly even for a new show following his adventures aboard his new ship.

Theory #13:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Though we’ve already had one departure this season – that of Lieutenant Tilly – I still believe that Discovery could very easily go down this road, especially considering how dangerous the DMA currently is.

For a breakdown of which characters I thought might be in danger before the season premiered, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #14:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Soji could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century.

This theory returns from Season 3, where I doggedly clung to it for the entire season!

Discovery’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

There were several great crossovers during The Next Generation era.

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #15:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Burnham in the captain’s chair.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in The Examples.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #16:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

HMS Bounty was able to travel back in time.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #17:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

President Rillak may have tried to circumvent the ban if she felt doing so would be in the Federation’s interest.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich might have. President Rillak could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the DMA. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #18:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

The Federation is still in a weakened state, nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

Season 4 has presented Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific puzzle: the DMA. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #19:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #20:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Stamets with a holographic galaxy map in The Examples.

Season 4 touched briefly on the Burn with Su’Kal and Saru in Kobayashi Maru, and may now seek to put last season’s story to bed so it can wrangle with the DMA instead. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered. To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #21:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The DMA is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

So that’s the main theory list.

We also have two production-side theories in play, and I’ll recap those now.

Production-side theory #1:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4. But that doesn’t mean she will be a main character on the show going forward, and her departure feels permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may come back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery debuted in 2017, we’ve known by this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to be nearing the halfway point of Season 4 and to still have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 won’t air until next year!

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind-the-scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area.

Once again this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So that’s it.

What adventure awaits the crew later this week?

Those are all of the theories that are currently in play as we await Stormy Weather – the sixth episode of Season 4. We’re accumulating quite a few theories, some of which completely contradict one another! So far, Discovery’s fourth season has been an interesting journey. We’ve has some slower character moments, some semi-episodic stories (that may yet come back into play), and some interesting developments in regards to the DMA. As we near the halfway point of the season, there are still many different ways that the story could go.

Stormy Weather looks like it’ll bring back Grudge – I hope the cute little ball of fluff will be okay! A dark matter anomaly is no place for a puss!

Before we go, one final point. I write up these theories because I like Star Trek and I like writing. But for some folks, fan theories can hamper their enjoyment of a film or television show. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these theories probably won’t pan out, and we have to be prepared for the fact that even the most well-constructed fan theory, no matter how fun and plausible it seems, simply won’t turn out to be true. If you find that speculating and reading theories is beginning to detract from your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery – or any other television show or film – it might be a good idea to take a break for a while.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 0

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Picard Season 1.

Discovery’s fourth season kicks off next week, and if you missed my coverage of the series last year you might not know that I like to write up my theories after each episode has aired. This year I want to get in early and put all of my major pre-season theories into one place… that way we can cross them off as they get debunked – or possibly even confirmed!

Last year I had a lot of fun combing over each episode and trying to speculate and theorise where the story might go. I came up with many theories that were wide of the mark – check out some of my worst ones by clicking or tapping here! – but I did also get some things right.

A Ferengi Starfleet officer glimpsed in the second Season 4 trailer.

It’s important to caveat any list of theories by saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything listed below will happen. Fan theories are a lot of fun for me, but they can also detract from a person’s enjoyment of media if they get too attached to a particular theory that ultimately doesn’t come to pass. If you find yourself in that position, I recommend taking a break from fan theories for a while.

So let’s have a bit of fun and kick off my Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 theories one week early! You might’ve seen some of these already – I’ve written up a few big pre-season theories over the past few months. Let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1: A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin draped with the Federation flag as seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage, and we know Captain Burnham and the crew will be facing a dangerous gravitational anomaly. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Dr McCoy and Sulu playing dead in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Discovery has seen a number of characters leave the series – far more than any past Star Trek show, in fact – but the series’ death toll is still relatively low when compared to many other modern television shows.

There are also a couple of characters whose roles aboard the ship feel in danger – not least of whom is poor ex-Captain Saru, who was rather unceremoniously shuffled out of his role in the Season 3 epilogue. For a full breakdown of which other characters may or may not be in danger, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

Yes, I’m officially bringing this theory back! This is one that I doggedly clung on to for all of Season 3, and while it arguably kind of happened with the Guardian of Forever, that wasn’t really what I meant.

The show’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #3: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair in a promotional image for Season 4.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the differences between these very different individual captains and the way they commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in the first Season 4 trailer.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing, Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #4: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

The Season 3 finale rushed past this point as it had a lot going on, but the revelation that Book – and potentially millions of other people with empathic abilities – can serve in the role of Spore Drive navigator is huge. The technology was previously limited by Stamets being the only one with the ability to interface with the mycelial network, but now that limitation has seemingly been removed.

In a galaxy where dilithium supplies are still low, having a powerful alternative method of propulsion is a godsend for Starfleet, and I would think it would be a priority to start recreating the technology and training up a whole corps of Spore Drive navigators.

Book was able to use the Spore Drive in Season 3 – potentially opening it up for more ships to use.

On the production side of things, this would finally find a proper use for what has been one of Discovery’s more controversial elements. Even after the discovery of the huge dilithium cache in the Verubin Nebula, the vitally-important fuel is still a limited resource. Developing an alternative way for Starfleet ships to get around should still be a priority for the organisation.

This could be a story with real-world parallels, too. Climate change is a very real and very dangerous threat out here in the real world, and finding new, cleaner ways of generating power and fuelling our vehicles is essential. Discovery could use its Spore Drive as an analogy for the development of electric vehicles or renewable energy generation, for example.

Theory #5: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

This is another Season 3 theory that I’m choosing to bring back! The question of who Kovich is and what role he played in Starfleet and the Federation was left open at the end of Season 3, and we know that the character will return in some capacity. As someone who seemed to talk around the issue at hand and not reveal everything he knew, Kovich strikes me as potentially being a Section 31 operative – or even the head of the organisation.

We don’t know yet if the Section 31 series that was announced in 2019 will go ahead as planned. But if it does, there could potentially be a connection between Kovich and Georgiou that would tie the two shows together. Kovich is mysterious enough that his character could be taken in many different directions – but my money’s on Section 31.

Theory #6: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

Admiral Vance first told us of the ban on time travel.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #7: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

HMS Bounty travels through time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak is someone we don’t know yet, but she could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the gravitational anomaly. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #8: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calpyso.

Despite a handful of moments in Season 3 which seemed to connect to Calypso, the story of the season overall ended up going in a very different direction. While we saw a couple of things that arguably did tie in to the Short Treks episode, major things like the USS Discovery undergoing a refit have actually moved the plot even further away.

It’s possible that Calypso will forever remain an outlier in Star Trek’s canon – an episode tied to a vision of Season 2 or Season 3 that was changed before it made it to screen. But earlier in Season 3 it felt like we were getting close to seeing how it could all be tied together – and I’m hopeful that Season 4 will find a way to do so.

Theory #9: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

The Federation is in a weakened state, and even if we see worlds like Ni’Var rejoin the organisation it’s still nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

The USS Discovery arriving at the Verubin Nebula in Season 3.

Season 4 has teased a scientific puzzle – the gravitational anomaly. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #10: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are involved with the gravitational anomaly.

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

Picard Season 1 introduced us to a faction I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” – for their similarity to that video game faction. This race of super-synths existed outside of the Milky Way galaxy and promised to come to the aid of any synthetics who were being persecuted by organics, and Soji and Sutra attempted to contact them in the Season 1 finale.

We don’t know much at all about the super-synths or what their goals or motivations might be. It has to be considered at least possible that the attempted contact by the Coppelius synths set in motion a chain of events that could lead to the super-synths attacking the Milky Way galaxy.

Theory #11: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery en route to the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

Based solely on what we’ve heard about the gravitational anomaly in the trailers and teasers, one thing strikes me as odd. The anomaly appears to be “targetting” the Federation. I put the word in inverted commas because it implies an intelligence at work – someone or something in control of the anomaly, directing it to attack the Federation. But what if that’s actually the case?

I mentioned the super-synths above as one possible culprit, but we could also consider factions like the Borg or the Dominion – they might have taken the opportunity of the Burn to perfect a weapon to destroy the remaining members of the Federation, perhaps as a precursor to invading and conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

A different depiction of the anomaly.

There are also factions like the Kelvan Empire from The Original Series – whose possible return to the Milky Way galaxy lines up in terms of timing. Enterprise’s Sphere Builders also come to mind: they attempted to use their own anomaly-generating devices to convert a region of space to resemble their native realm also as a precursor to invasion.

In short, are we certain that the gravitational anomaly will be nothing more than a natural phenomenon? I’m definitely not convinced of that right now! Past seasons of the show have seen twists and turns, taking stories in unexpected directions. Right now we assume that whatever this anomaly is it’s something natural – but that may not be the case.

Theory #12: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #13: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager was the first Federation starship to explore the Delta Quadrant.

It’s quite possible that Season 4 won’t revisit the Burn narrative in any detail. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered.

Theory #14: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The gravitational anomaly is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

Theory #15: At least one new character will join the main cast.

Lieutenant Detmer in Season 3.

One big question facing the series right now is who will take on the role of Captain Burnham’s first officer? Tilly was seen in the second trailer wearing the blue uniform of the science division, so it seems as though her tenure as the USS Discovery’s number one will be short-lived. So who will replace her? There are several secondary bridge officers like Rhys, Nilsson, and Bryce who are contenders, but it could also be someone like Lieutenant Willa – Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3.

A new character entirely could also join the crew, either directly as Burnham’s XO or to replace someone else who gets promoted to that role. With both Nhan and Georgiou departing in Season 3, and a potentially reduced role for Saru this time around, there’s definitely scope to bring a new major character aboard the ship.

Lieutenant Sahil was commissioned into Starfleet at the end of Season 3.

We could potentially see characters from Season 3 like Lieutenant Sahil or even Aurellio make a comeback. Sahil was the guardian of a Federation relay post who Captain Burnham met at the beginning of the season, and he was commissioned as an officer in the season finale. He would be a great choice in my opinion.

A wholly new character could also be concocted. We know that Federation President Rillak will be new for Season 4, but how significant a role she will have remains to be seen. I definitely feel that there’s scope for at least one new character – or perhaps the promotion of a secondary character to the regular cast.

So that’s it for now! Those are my official Season 4 theories written up and ready to go!

Grudge is also coming back!

The season premiere will arrive in less than a week from now, so stay tuned for a full review of the episode and an update to these theories! I wonder how many will be completely destroyed right off the bat?

I’ve been looking forward to Discovery’s fourth season all year, and it’s hard to believe it’s now only a few days away! I’m hoping to see a season of television that will be tense, exciting, and unpredictable. Despite my love of theory-crafting, I like being wrong just as much as I like being right – if not more! A story that goes in truly unexpected directions is a lot of fun, so I won’t be upset even if absolutely none of my theories come to pass.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 19th of November 2021 on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – my worst theory failures!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

During Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, I wrote a weekly series of theories, speculating about what may be going on with the show’s various storylines. I had some successes in my theories and predictions, but there were more than a few misses as well! Now that the season is in the rear-view mirror, I thought it could be fun to go back to some of my theories and see how wrong I was!

All of these theories seemed plausible at the time – for one reason or another – yet ultimately proved to be way off base. One thing I appreciate about Discovery – and a lot of other shows and films too, both within the Star Trek franchise and outside of it – is that sense of unpredictability. Nothing in Discovery Season 3 was mundane or felt like it had been blatantly telegraphed ahead of time, and the fact that the narrative took twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting was, on the whole, great! There were a couple of storylines I personally didn’t think were fantastic or handled very well, but on the whole, Discovery’s third season was an enjoyable ride.

Book’s ship at warp in the season premiere.

Some of the theories I had were pure speculation based on nothing more than guesswork and intuition, and others seemed truly reasonable and plausible. While the season was ongoing I tended to just write up any theories I had, no matter how wild or out of left-field they seemed to be! Whether that was good or not… well the jury is out! The theory lists I published were well-read, so I assume at least some folks found something of interest!

I like to caveat these kinds of articles by saying that no fan theory, no matter how plausible or rational it may seem to be, is worth getting too attached to or upset about. The internet has been great for fan communities, allowing us to come together to discuss our favourite franchises and engage in a lot of theory-crafting. But there is a darker side to all of this, and some fans find themselves getting too attached to a particular theory to the point where their enjoyment of the actual narrative is diminished if that theory doesn’t pan out. Please try to keep in mind that I don’t have any “insider information,” and I’ve never tried to claim that a particular theory is somehow guaranteed to come true. I like writing, I like Star Trek, and writing about Star Trek is a fun activity for me – that’s why I do this, and if I ever felt that theorising about Discovery or other shows was harming my enjoyment, I would stop. And I encourage you to take a step back if you find yourself falling into that particular trap.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at ten of my least successful Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theories!

Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and his adoptive brother in the episode The Sanctuary.

When we met Book in That Hope Is You at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t at all clear who he was. However, there were inhuman elements to Book, such as his ability to heal, to use a holographic interface seemingly attached to his body, and glowing, almost electronic-looking areas on parts of his skin. With Book’s origin somewhat of a mystery, I wondered if he might turn out to be a synth – and specifically, a synth from the planet Coppelius (or one of their descendants).

We met the Coppelius synths in Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and I was hopeful as Discovery’s third season got underway that there’d be a serious attempt to connect the two shows – as this was something Picard wholly failed to do in its debut season. I’ve said numerous times that Star Trek needs to do more to bind different parts of the franchise together, and after Picard basically ignored Discovery, I was hoping for some kind of connection to manifest in Season 3. Booker being a synth could have been one way to do that.

Book’s telepathic abilities caused glowing areas to appear on his face.

So really, it’s not unfair to say that this theory was concocted more for production-side reasons than anything we saw on screen. Book’s abilities as we saw them in That Hope Is You (and subsequently in episodes like The Sanctuary, There Is A Tide, and That Hope Is You, Part 2) were clearly more organic and telepathic than anything artificial or technological in origin – except for his holographic computer interface. So perhaps this was always a bit of a stretch!

Booker turned out to be a Kwejian native – though what exactly that means is unclear. Given Book’s human appearance, it’s possible that the people of Kwejian are descendants or offshoots of humanity, or perhaps, given their telepathic nature, they’re somehow related to the Betazoids. In the season finale, Book promised Burnham he’d tell her more about his background, and how he came to use the name Cleveland Booker, so perhaps we’ll learn more about Book’s people in Season 4. He was a wonderful addition to the season, even if I was way off base with my theory about his possible origin!

Number 2: The Burn is connected to Michael Burnham – and/or the Red Angel suit.

Michael Burn-ham.

The Burn’s origin was not definitively revealed and confirmed until the season finale, so for practically the entire season I was talking about some form of this theory! There seemed to be a few possible clues that Discovery gave us – which ultimately turned out to be red herrings as the Burn was unconnected to any of them – about the ultimate answer to the Burn, and several of them could have been interpreted to mean that Burnham was, in some way, connected to the event that shares part of her name.

The main reason I considered this theory plausible, though, was because Discovery has always been a series that put Burnham front-and-centre in all of its main storylines. Having a connection to the biggest story of the season thus seemed possible. When the event’s name was revealed, the fact that it shared part of her name seemed to lend credence to that idea – at least it did considering I’d already started down that rabbit hole!

One of two Red Angel suits seen in Season 2.

That Hope Is You saw Burnham arrive in the future immediately following the events of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale. She took off her Red Angel suit and set it to self-destruct, but as we never saw the self-destruction for ourselves on screen, it was a bit of a mystery as to what became of the suit. In a future where time travel technology had been prohibited, the Red Angel suit may have been one of the last extant ways to travel through time, and would be incredibly valuable to factions like the Emerald Chain, so I reasoned that perhaps someone had intercepted the suit, and either intentionally or unintentionally caused the Burn.

I’m glad this one didn’t pan out, because it was nice to give Burnham a break! In the end, Burnham wasn’t strongly involved in the resolution to the Burn’s storyline, with that task being given to Saru, Dr Culber, Adira, and of course Su’Kal. After Burnham had just saved the galaxy by defeating the Control AI, there would have been an interesting ethical and philosophical dilemma for her if she had learned that her actions and/or the Red Angel suit had been responsible for the Burn – but it would’ve been hard to pull off and arguably too similar to the guilt she felt at the outbreak of the Federation-Klingon War in Season 1. So overall, it was an interesting theory well worth considering, but I’m glad it wasn’t true!

Number 3: The USS Discovery could arrive in the future before Burnham.

The USS Discovery had a rough landing in the 32nd Century!

Time travel stories are complicated. Once the link between cause and effect is broken, almost anything becomes possible. Even though Burnham and the Red Angel suit were leading the way into the future, the mechanics of the time wormhole were not explained, and it was at least plausible to think that the USS Discovery might’ve arrived first.

I first posited this theory after the season premiere, and it seemed plausible for practically all of Far From Home too. One thing that could’ve happened, had this theory been correct, would be that Burnham would’ve been out of her element for a lot longer than just one episode. In That Hope Is You, we saw her completely awed by everything she saw, experiencing a completely new world for the first time. And that premise meant that we were seeing Burnham in a whole new way, not in control of the situation and having to rely on others instead of trying to shoulder all of the burden all of the time. Had the USS Discovery found her after the ship and crew had spent a year in the future instead of the other way around, Burnham could’ve been our point-of-view character for learning what was new and different, instead of reverting to type.

We missed a year of Burnham’s exploits in the 32nd Century.

With both Red Angel suits gone, I doubt we’ll see the time-wormholes they could generate ever return either. But it would be interesting to get to know a little more about how that technology worked – would it even have been possible for the USS Discovery to arrive earlier than Burnham? Burnham arrived on the planet Hima, and Discovery arrived near a planet called the Colony, so considering the wormhole had two different exit points it seems possible to me anyway!

Because of the one-year time skip, we didn’t get to see much of Burnham’s exploits with Book in the 32nd Century prior to Discovery’s arrival. It would have been interesting to see either Burnham or the crew trying to learn more about their new home and the origins of the Burn, because in some ways it could be argued that we as the audience arrived with the first part of a story already complete. I kind of want to see that part for myself – and maybe we will in flashbacks in future seasons!

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

One of my hopes going into Season 3 was that Discovery would finally spend some time with other members of the crew, and I was pleased that it happened. After two full seasons I felt that we hadn’t really got to know anything about people like Owosekun, Rhys, and Detmer, despite their being permanent fixtures on the bridge. Though not all of the less-prominent officers got big storylines this season, one who did was Detmer.

In the episode Far From Home, Detmer was thrown from her seat following the ship’s crash-landing. Concussed, she was sent to sickbay where, after a once-over, she was patched up and returned to work. However, there were hints – at least, what I considered to be hints – that all was not well with Discovery’s helm officer, and I wondered if her first significant storyline might in fact be the setup to her death. There just seemed to be so much foreshadowing!

Detmer eventually survived the season.

Ultimately, however, Detmer’s storyline took a different path. I appreciate what it was trying to be – an examination of post-traumatic stress that ended with a positive and uplifting message showing Detmer “getting over it,” for want of a better expression – but because it wasn’t properly fleshed-out after Far From Home, with Detmer only given a handful of very brief scenes before her big turnaround in The Sanctuary, I just felt it was underdeveloped and didn’t quite hit the notes it wanted to. So despite a potentially interesting premise, the execution let this storyline down somewhat.

Especially after the way she was acting in Far From Home, I can’t have been the only one to predict an untimely end for Detmer! I heard several other theories that I considered to be very “out there,” such as Detmer’s implant being possessed by Control in the same manner as Ariam had been in Season 2, but I firmly believed the setup was foreshadowing her death due to injury rather than something of that nature. It’s probably good that it didn’t happen, as it leaves her a slightly more rounded character if the show wants to do more with her in future. However, there were several officers in the final trio of episodes who could’ve been killed off after the ship was captured by the Emerald Chain, including Detmer, and it feels somewhat like Discovery was playing it safe by not doing so. Aside from Ryn, no major hero characters lost their lives in Season 3, and while character deaths aren’t something I desperately want in a show like this, they can certainly raise the stakes.

Number 5: The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (or rather, a backup copy of him) will make an appearance.

The Doctor.

This was my most popular pre-season theory! I stuck with it practically the whole time, and branched out to include a handful of other characters from past iterations of Star Trek who could, in theory, still be alive by the 32nd Century. By the standards of my modest website, an absolutely huge number of you read this theory – and it continues to be popular even today, despite the season having concluded months ago. So I wasn’t the only one half-guessing, half-hoping that the Doctor might be included in Discovery!

The reason why I considered the Doctor to be one of the most plausible characters who could make an appearance is because of an episode from Voyager’s fourth season: Living Witness. In that episode, a backup copy of the Doctor was activated sometime in the 30th or 31st Centuries after being discovered among museum artefacts, and while the story was interesting in its own right and a critique of how things we consider to be “historical facts” can shift over time, what really interested me was its timeframe and its ending.

A picture of the Doctor seen at the end of Living Witness.

At the end of Living Witness, in a scene set even farther into the future, it was revealed that, after living with the Kyrians and Vaskans in the Delta Quadrant for decades, the Doctor eventually took a small ship and set out to try to reach Earth. If he had survived and completed his journey, he could’ve reached Earth in the years prior to the arrival of Burnham and Discovery. The timelines lined up for a possible crossover.

However, it wasn’t to be! Though we did see the return of the Guardian of Forever, which had originally appeared in The Original Series, no major characters from any other Star Trek show made an appearance. Perhaps the producers and writers felt that, with Seven of Nine carrying the torch for Voyager with her appearances in Season 1 of Picard, including a second main character from Voyager in a new show would’ve been too much, or at least that the timing was wrong. Regardless, I think it would’ve been amazing to see, and despite this theory failing to pan out in Season 3, it’s one I may very well bring back in time for Season 4!

Number 6: There will be a resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

Poor Calypso. I’m beginning to feel that the Short Treks episode is doomed to be a permanent outlier in the Star Trek canon, evidently connected to a version of Season 2 that never made it to screen. Broadcast in the months before Discovery’s second season, Calypso introduced us to Craft, a soldier from the far future fighting a war against the “V’draysh.” We also got to meet Zora, an AI who was the sole inhabitant of a long-abandoned USS Discovery.

Here’s where things get confusing. Season 3 saw some moves toward Calypso, including the apparent creation of Zora from a merger of the Sphere data with Discovery’s computer. The voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role, although the name “Zora” wasn’t mentioned. We also heard the villainous Zareh use the term “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation – seemingly confirming that Calypso must be set in roughly this same era.

The unmanned USS Discovery tows Craft’s pod.

However, we also saw some big moves away from Calypso as well. The most significant one is that the USS Discovery has undergone a refit. While this isn’t readily apparent from the ship’s interior – something I really hope changes in Season 4 – it was very apparent from the exterior of the ship. Calypso showed off a pre-refit Discovery, which means that resolving the story of this short episode feels further away than ever.

As I mentioned in the intro, it seems clear that Calypso was originally written with a different version of Season 2 in mind – perhaps even to serve as a kind of epilogue in the event that Season 2 would be Discovery’s last. Even going into Such Sweet Sorrow – the two-part finale of Season 2 – the possibility of hiding the ship in a nebula, as depicted in Calypso, existed, and with a few changes and tweaks to the season finale, Calypso would have been a natural epilogue to that story. That’s what I think happened on the production side of things, anyway. With the storyline of Season 2 up in the air, a somewhat ambiguous short episode was created to serve as a potential epilogue if the show was cancelled. Discovery wasn’t cancelled, though, and now the writers have to find a way to square this particularly tricky circle. Or they might just try to ignore it!

Number 7: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of propulsion.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

When it became apparent that warp drive in the 32nd Century was very difficult due to the lack of dilithium and the aftereffects of the Burn, I thought the writers and producers of Discovery had played a masterstroke by finally finding a way for the show’s most controversial piece of technology to play a major role.

The Spore Drive, which was introduced in Season 1, received a mixed reaction from fans. Some insisted that it “violates canon” by allowing a 23rd Century starship to effectively travel anywhere in the galaxy, and others wondered why the technology had never been mentioned in settings where it would have logically been useful – such as to the crew of the USS Voyager, stranded tens of thousands of light-years from home! Though I would suggest that many of the fans who felt this way about the Spore Drive also had other gripes with Discovery, by pushing forward in time there was an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive in a way that wouldn’t undermine anything in Star Trek’s established canon.

Captain Saru orders Black Alert and initiates a Spore Drive jump.

The dilithium shortage the galaxy is experiencing, made a hundred times worse by the Burn, seemed to offer an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive. And at first, Starfleet did seem to be keen on making use of it. However, despite Discovery’s extensive retrofit, the Spore Drive remained aboard the ship and Starfleet seems to have made no attempt to copy it or roll it out to any of their other vessels. The huge planet-sized cache of dilithium in the Verubin Nebula has also solved – at least in the short-term – the galaxy’s fuel problem, so there’s less of a need from Starfleet’s perspective to invest in recreating the Spore Drive, despite its seemingly unlimited potential.

Perhaps this will be picked up in Season 4, especially with Book’s ability to use the Spore Drive getting around the last hurdle in the way of a broader rollout. There was potential, I felt, for the dilithium shortage and Burn storylines to parallel real world climate change and how we’re slowly running out of oil, but the Verubin Nebula’s dilithium planet kind of squashed any real-world analogy! Again, though, this is something that could potentially return in Season 4.

Number 8: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.

Dr Issa’s holographic message.

The Short Treks episode The Brightest Star was broadcast in between Seasons 1 and 2, and introduced us to Saru’s sister Siranna. She returned in Season 2, in the episodes The Sound of Thunder and Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. In Season 3, the same actress who played Siranna also appeared as Dr Issa – the commander of the crashed Kelpien ship in the Verubin Nebula and the mother of Su’Kal.

Because of this production-side coincidence, as well as Saru’s incredibly strong reaction to seeing Dr Issa in holographic form, I speculated that Dr Issa could be a descendant of Siranna, and thus a great-great-niece to Saru. That familial tie could have explained why Saru found himself so emotionally compromised during the final few episodes of the season, and why he risked everything to help Su’Kal.

It seemed that Saru was seeing something more in Dr Issa than just a fellow Kelpien.

However, it seems that this was little more than casting coincidence! Perhaps it was easier for the producers to work with someone who was already familiar with the Kelpiens – and Kelpien prosthetic makeup – instead of casting a new actress for the role. Or perhaps it was deliberate – presenting Saru with someone superficially similar to Siranna to push him emotionally. Regardless, this theory didn’t pan out.

It could have been interesting to see Saru coming face-to-face with a distant relative, and it could’ve added to the Su’Kal storyline. However, in the time allotted to Saru’s exploits in the Verubin Nebula, it would have been difficult to add this additional emotional element and have it properly developed, so perhaps it’s for the best!

Number 9: The holographic “monster” is either Dr Issa or the real Su’Kal.

The holographic “monster.”

The episode Su’Kal pushed hard for a creepy “haunted castle” aesthetic when depicting Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a big part of that was the holographic “monster.” The monster seemed like a very odd inclusion in a holo-programme designed for a young child, and even though an attempt was made to excuse it by saying it was an old Kelpien legend, I wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t something else going on.

Additionally, the monster didn’t behave or appear like any of the other decaying holograms. After decades of continuous use, Su’Kal’s holographic world was falling apart. Many of the holograms were flickering or fading, and they were quite basic in what they could say or do. In contrast, the monster moved with a natural, organic fluidity, and didn’t flicker or appear in any way artificial – even as the holographic world disintegrated around it.

The monster turned out to be just part of the holo-programme.

The Verubin Nebula’s radiation was said to be fatal, but in horror and sci-fi radiation is often seen to cause mutations. Given the monster’s vaguely Kelpien appearance and dishevelled, decrepit, morbid look, I wondered if it was actually the real Su’Kal – or Dr Issa – having mutated and decayed after decades in the hostile nebula. The final piece of evidence I added to this little pile was the strange way that the monster interacted with Burnham in the episode Su’Kal – it seemed curious about her, perceiving her in a way I thought was almost human.

Despite all of that, however, the monster turned out to be exactly what the crew believed it to be: just another part of the holo-programme. This theory was quite “out there,” as it would’ve been a big twist on what we as the audience were expecting. There were hints that I felt could have built up the monster to be something more, but ultimately these turned out to be red herrings!

Number 10: Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

“An alternate reality?”

Over the course of the first two-thirds or so of Season 3, there seemed to be breadcrumbs that at least hinted at the possibility that Burnham and Discovery had crossed over to a parallel universe or alternate timeline. The biggest one was the initial absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, but there was also the strange piece of music that seemed to be connected to the Burn, the fact that the time-wormhole didn’t take Burnham and the ship to their intended destination of Terralysium, and a couple of hints from Voyager (as mentioned above) and Enterprise that could have been interpreted to mean the Burn never happened in the timeline depicted in those older shows.

There was also the possibility that the Burn was caused by the interference of time travellers. The resolution to that storyline could have been for Burnham and Discovery to go back in time and prevent the Burn from ever happening – restoring the “true” timeline and undoing the Burn. Both of these theories seemed plausible for much of the season.

It seemed possible, for a time, that Discovery Season 3 was taking place in a parallel universe.

I’m glad, though, that neither theory came to pass! “It’s a parallel universe” is almost akin to “it was all a dream” in terms of being a pretty lazy excuse for storylines in sci-fi, and the idea of undoing the Burn, while interesting in theory, would have effectively wiped out all of the good deeds Saru, Burnham, and the crew did across Season 3, like helping the peoples of Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian. So it was to the show’s overall benefit to stick firmly to the prime timeline.

Doing so is actually rather bold. Discovery took Star Trek to some very different thematic places in Season 3, largely thanks to the Burn and its lingering effects, and I could understand the temptation to brush all of that aside. We still got some parallel universe action in the two-part episode Terra Firma, which revisited the Mirror Universe. With the Burn now in the rear-view mirror and Discovery moving on to new adventures, perhaps it will be possible for Star Trek to establish the 32nd Century as a major new setting, allowing Discovery Season 3 to be the springboard for a host of new shows and films.

So that’s it. Ten of my worst Discovery Season 3 theories!

I had some pretty significant theory misses last season!

Though we can debate some of the story points across Season 3 – and I still haven’t written my big piece about the Burn yet – overall I think Season 3 did a good job of establishing the show in its new setting. The Burn presented a tantalising mystery to solve, and for the first time in the series, it felt as though more members of the crew had significant roles to play in the season’s main storylines.

With Burnham having ascended to the captain’s chair, and a new threat seemingly having reared its head, Season 4 is going to take Discovery to different places yet again. And if there are theories to be crafted – and I daresay there will be – I’ll be writing them up! Even though a lot of the theories I came up with in Season 3 didn’t pan out, I had a blast thinking them up and writing them down. At the end of the day, it’s an excuse to spend more time thinking and talking about Star Trek.

So I hope this look back was a bit of fun! Stay tuned, because as and when we get news about Season 4 I’ll be taking a look here on the website, and when the season premieres later this year I’ll be reviewing every episode… and probably coming up with a few more theories!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now in its entirety on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What to watch to be ready for Star Trek: Picard

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the episodes and films on this list.

It’s only a few days till Star Trek: Picard premieres. Just saying that gets me excited, as I’ve been anticipating this series since it was announced! And in a broader sense, I’ve been waiting for the Star Trek franchise to move its timeline forward again since Voyager went off the air and Nemesis was in cinemas.

If you’re new to Star Trek, or haven’t watched any of the older series for a long time, it might be worthwhile to go back and take a look at some of the classics in anticipation of Star Trek: Picard. So let’s go together and get caught up on some of the episodes which may – or may not – be relevant to Picard’s story. At any rate, they’re all worth a watch before the show kicks off.

Number 1: Endgame (Star Trek: Voyager, 2001)

Admiral Janeway and the Borg Queen in the Voyager episode Endgame.

Before The Avengers ever thought of it, Voyager had the first Endgame! And it was a heck of a ride involving a time-travelling Janeway giving her past self technology from the future in order to defeat the Borg. By changing the past, Janeway was able to get Voyager home far sooner than she had in her own timeline.

Time travel paradox aside (how could future Janeway exist if she erased her own timeline by interacting with her past self?) the episode sets up what could be an important story point regarding the Borg. As Voyager prepares to travel home, future Janeway infects the Borg Queen with a virus – one that has the potential to devastate the entire collective. Voyager is able to easily destroy many Borg vessels – and the Borg Queen’s complex – thanks to the enhancements future Janeway brought them, and the end of the episode is the last time we’ve seen the Borg in the Star Trek timeline. What happened to them after Endgame is a key question, and given that we’ve seen a Borg vessel and ex-Borg in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard, it may be one that the series will answer.

Seven of Nine, a key member of Voyager’s crew in its later seasons, is also set to feature in some form in Star Trek: Picard, and her relationship with the collective was always a point of interest. I definitely think it’s worth giving Endgame a rewatch before Picard kicks off.

Number 2: Star Trek: Nemesis (Film, 2002)

Data and Picard in this scene from Star Trek: Nemesis.

This had to be on the list, right? Nemesis is as far forward as the Star Trek timeline had gotten – prior to last week’s Short Treks episode Children of Mars. And it was a Picard-centric story, focusing on his fight against a clone of himself created by the Romulans. As a story which features Picard heavily, as well as his relationship with the Romulans, this would already be an important one to watch. But because in this film Picard sees Data sacrifice himself to save him, it becomes even more meaningful in the story of Picard’s life.

We already know from the trailers that Data’s loss weighs heavily on Picard, and may even be a significant factor in his decision to leave Starfleet a few years after the events of Nemesis. As Data’s sacrifice is such an important moment in Picard’s later life, Nemesis is definitely worthy of a viewing before Picard premieres.

Other things to note from the film would be the Romulans and their relationship with the Federation. Nemesis takes place after the Dominion War (as seen in Deep Space Nine) and the Federation and Romulans had been allies. Is that alliance still in place? Is it possible that the surviving Romulans will have a good relationship with the Federation after the destruction of their homeworld? All interesting points to consider!

Number 3: Children of Mars (Short Treks, 2020)

Picard’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo appearance in Children of Mars.

I have a full review of Children of Mars already written and posted, which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Suffice to say that it wasn’t my favourite episode of Short Treks, but nevertheless it was created to be a prequel to Star Trek: Picard. While it’s unclear whether the two principal characters the episode features – schoolgirls named Kima and Lil – will cross over to the main series, there’s a significant event depicted which certainly will be a story point in some form.

A faction called the “rogue synths” launches a massive attack on Mars, where the Federation’s Utopia Planitia shipyards are located. Who this group are and what their aims were isn’t clear, but it seems as though this attack was designed to disrupt efforts led by Admiral Picard to assist the Romulans as they faced the supernova which would ultimately destroy their homeworld. In that sense, the attack on Mars looks set to be significant in the backstory to Star Trek: Picard.

Unfortunately if you’re outside the United States, as I am, you won’t be able to watch this episode by conventional means. Amazon Prime, despite having the rights to show Picard, don’t seem to have shown this episode of Short Treks. I suppose it’s possible that they will put up Children of Mars on their streaming platform before Picard premieres, but realistically if you want to guarantee seeing it before the main series you will have to find another way to access a copy. I can’t recommend any one website or other method, but if you know your way around a computer I daresay you’ll be able to find it.

Number 4: Disaster (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)

Picard and the children in the stuck turbolift in Disaster.

Disaster is one of my personal favourite episodes of The Next Generation. Perhaps I should do a list of those one day! It’s a bottle show (i.e. a show taking place entirely on board the ship – these were usually done to save money on building new sets) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t tell a very interesting story – or rather, a connected series of stories. As the Enterprise-D hits a “quantum filament”, it is left without power to most of its key systems. The main crew are split up, and are forced to play different roles than they usually would.

It’s a great example of characters working in the face of adversity, and of how the threat and danger in an episode of Star Trek doesn’t have to come from a menacing evil alien. Worf ends up delivering a baby, Counsellor Troi is the senior officer on the bridge and is forced to make significant command decisions, and most significantly for our purposes, Picard is stuck in a turbolift with a group of frightened children.

We’ve seen Picard in command countless times and we know he’s good at it – with his own crew. What Disaster does is show us how Picard can take control of any situation, even one he’s uncomfortable in as he’s never been keen on children. He’s able to get the situation under control and lead the kids to safety in the face of a difficult situation. It may not be the most significant TNG episode ever from Picard’s point of view, but it is nevertheless worth a watch.

Number 5: The Battle (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987)

Accompanied by a Ferengi Marauder, the Enterprise-D takes the USS Stargazer under tow in The Battle.

The Next Generation’s first season was all about the show finding its feet. With the Klingons having been somewhat pacified, the show was looking for a new antagonist, and the Ferengi were initially created to fill that role. Though over the course of Deep Space Nine we’ve come to see the Ferengi more as a neutral power, interested in their own finances more than in galactic events, in early TNG they were much more aggressive.

The Battle was only the Ferengi’s second appearance, though we’re not really interested in the episode for that reason. Dai’mon Bok, a Ferengi captain, has somehow acquired the USS Stargazer – a ship previously captained by Picard. Over the course of the episode, we learn Picard had been in command at an event called the “battle of Maxia”, in which he defeated a Ferengi vessel using a warp speed technique called the “Picard manoeuvre”. The story fills in some of Picard’s pre-TNG history and proved to be a great opportunity for Patrick Stewart to show off his acting abilities, as the episode takes the character through a moment of (induced) madness.

Number 6: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I & II (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1990)

Picard transformed into Locutus of Borg in The Best of Both Worlds.

I’ve kind of spoilt it in the above picture, but Picard’s assimilation by the Borg in The Best of Both Worlds was a truly shocking moment for The Next Generation to end its third season on. This was the first time we’d seen assimilation on screen, and for a character as significant as Picard to be captured was a phenomenal moment. The entire two-part episode is beautifully constructed, and the moments leading up to the reveal of the assimilated Picard are perfectly shot and edited.

In terms of Picard’s life, his experience with the Borg, and the guilt and regret he felt over the attack on Starfleet ships at Wolf 359, would stay with him for a long time. In First Contact we see how it could influence his judgement – Picard was usually level-headed, calm, and neutral, but when it came to the Borg his emotions could get the better of him leading to irrational decisions. Seeing how this came to be, and how one traumatic event can affect his character, could be very important to understanding his decision-making in Picard, especially if the Borg are involved.

Family, the second episode of Season 4 of TNG, follows on from The Best of Both Worlds and would also be worth a look-in as an epilogue of sorts to this story.

Number 7: Star Trek: Discovery (2017-present)

Lorca and Saru during Discovery’s first season.

Given the significant changes to Star Trek storytelling that are present in Discovery, it would be well worth getting up to date with Star Trek’s most recent outing if you haven’t seen it already. I understand that some fans weren’t happy with the series for a number of reasons, but there are some definite high points in there which even the most hardline sceptic should be able to appreciate.

Jason Isaacs in Season 1 and Anson Mount in Season 2 both give amazing performances as two very different Starfleet captains, and Discovery tells two separate, season-long serialised stories in the style that Picard plans to adopt for its first season. If the Short Treks episode Children of Mars is any indication, the visual style of Discovery will also carry over to Picard at least in part. Whether you think this is a good thing or not is another matter, of course, but if you’ve somehow avoided Discovery this long, now could be a good time to give it a second chance.

Because of its serialised nature it’s hard to pull just one episode from Discovery and say “just watch this one”. But if I had to pick a single episode, I’d recommend An Obol for Charon from Season 2. Despite containing several ongoing story arcs, the main thrust of this episode – dealing with an ancient planet-sized lifeform – is largely a self-contained story, albeit one that would have a huge impact on the remainder of the season.

Number 8: Star Trek: Generations (Film, 1994)

Captains Kirk and Picard meet for the first time inside the Nexus in Star Trek: Generations.

“Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you, don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.” Those were the words spoken to Picard by Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. And for a time, it seemed as though Picard was following the advice his predecessor gave him. We saw Janeway promoted to Admiral in Star Trek: Nemesis while Picard remained a captain, even though for the audience she was a character we’d met much later and was noticeably younger. What could it have been that caused Picard to turn his back on Kirk’s advice?

In Generations, Picard loses several members of his family to a fire. Château Picard, where it seems he’s living in retirement at the beginning of the new series, was the place where his brother and family had lived. Family had been important to Picard, but he had been content that the family line would continue thanks to his brother having a family, but that was taken away from him in Generations. It’s a film in which he suffers another loss, too – the Enterprise-D.

Though casualties were said to be light, the loss of the ship he’d called home for more than seven years and had countless adventures aboard did have an effect on Picard, not that much of it is acknowledged on screen. Mostly, though, it’s Kirk’s sacrifice which is the key point worth noting from Generations, and even though the two men didn’t know each other particularly well, Kirk’s advice seemed to be taken to heart.

Number 9: Tapestry (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1993)

Given the chance to start over by Q, Picard ends up leading a very different life in Tapestry.

As Tapestry begins, Picard has been badly wounded. His artificial heart couldn’t tolerate the injury and he dies – only to be greeted by his long-time nemesis Q, and given a rare opportunity to make a fresh start.

Picard has an artificial heart because in his youth he was brutally stabbed! By choosing to avoid that fate, Picard set his life on a different path, one which didn’t lead to the man we knew, but a more timid and less successful man who had only made it as far as a junior lieutenant in Starfleet. He realises his mistake, and pleads Q to send him back to set things right, stating: “I would rather die as the man I was… than live the life I just saw.”

It’s another story that adds some colourful background to Picard’s story, and we see him in his youth before he settled down into the man we knew. Given that there are sure to be changes in his character between the last time we saw him and how he appears in Star Trek: Picard, it’s worth remembering that people do change over the course of their lives, and the person you are at 20 isn’t the same person you are at 50 or 70 or 90.

Number 10: All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1994)

Q takes Picard back in time in All Good Things…

The finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a strange one, with a time-travel concept and the return of Q. Across three time periods Picard had to figure out a puzzle – a spacial anomaly which would destroy humanity, and for which he was ultimately responsible!

If you’ve seen the science fiction film Arrival, then All Good Things… uses a similar concept. By learning to perceive time differently – realising that events in the future were impacting the past, not the other way around – Picard was able to prevent disaster. “We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.” So says Q, complimenting Picard on his ability to change the way he thought and attack the situation in a different way from a completely different line of reasoning.

Bringing to a close Q’s arc in The Next Generation, the episode also shows Picard as someone who is capable of things that he even doesn’t know about himself. Q gave him the push, but it was Picard who solved the mystery and saved humanity. We also get glimpses of Picard’s personal future – including his retirement at Château Picard. There’s the mention of a degenerative disease called irumodic syndrome which Picard is said to be suffering from in his later years – whether this will come into play in Star Trek: Picard is unknown.

Honourable Mentions:

I can’t end a list without adding in a few honourable mentions!

Star Trek (Film, 2009) – This is where we first hear about the supernova that destroyed Romulus from Spock. It’s a significant plot point in the film, but not one which is covered in great detail.
What You Leave Behind (DS9, 1999) – Concluding the Dominion War arc, which brought together the Federation and Romulans as allies, this episode is the most recent in which we saw many Star Trek factions like the Cardassians and Breen.
Skin of Evil (TNG, 1988) – Picard’s first on-screen experience with losing an officer and a friend, when Tasha Yar is killed in action.
Time Squared (TNG, 1988) – Picard must contend with the idea that he abandoned ship in the middle of a crisis when a duplicate of himself from the future is discovered.
The Defector (TNG, 1990) – A Romulan Admiral defects to the Federation to try to prevent a war, and Picard must deal with the information he provides.
The Raven (VOY, 1997) – Seven of Nine experiences flashbacks and uncovers her family’s half-assimilated ship where she was first captured by the Borg.
I, Borg (TNG, 1992) – The introduction of Hugh the Borg, and Picard’s attempt to weaponise him to defeat the collective.
Human Error (VOY, 2001) – Seven of Nine begins to discover more about her human side after years away from the Borg.
In The Pale Moonlight (DS9, 1998) – Sisko lies and cheats to bring the Romulans into the Dominion War as an ally – and Garak commits murder to cover up their actions. Did the Romulans find out between the end of the war and the events of Picard?
Sarek (TNG, 1990) – Picard came to know Spock well, but also met his father. Picard helped Sarek stay in control of his emotions as he suffered a serious Vulcan illness.

So that’s it. A few episodes and films that might feed into the plot and background of Star Trek: Picard. Perhaps not everything will be relevant, especially given the scant information about the show’s plot that we actually have. I’ve made two significant assumptions based on the trailer and cast information that we’ve seen so far – firstly that the Borg will have some role to play in the story, and secondly that the Romulans will too. But it could be an elaborate misdirect and both of these factions will ultimately end up being little more than backstory. We’ll have to see.

Regardless, the episodes and films above should go some way to showing off Picard and Star Trek at their best as we prepare for the new series. It’s been a long time since I was this excited about the premiere of a new television series, and I can’t wait to tune in when Picard kicks off in just ten days’ time.

Live Long and Prosper!

The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, and episodes listed above – is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Short Treks (Star Trek: Picard) review – Children of Mars

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Short Treks episode Children of Mars.

For those of you lucky enough to live in the United States, the latest episode of Short Treks – and the final episode of the current “season” – premiered yesterday. Before we jump into the full review, I want to address again the stupidity of keeping these episodes away from the majority of the Star Trek audience and fan community.

ViacomCBS needs to get as many people invested in the Star Trek franchise as possible. It’s one of their main properties, it’s one they’ve invested a lot of money in, and in order to ever see a return on that investment – which in the days of the “streaming wars” is no longer guaranteed – they need as many people on board as possible. As Star Trek: Picard premieres in two weeks, now is the time to start a huge push to bring in as many people as possible – both returning fans and curious newcomers.

Children of Mars serves as a “prequel” to Picard. Its story is inherently tied to the upcoming series, and Admiral Picard himself even features – albeit very briefly and only on a screen. So why is this episode, of all the Short Treks episodes, not available outside the United States? Here in the UK, and I believe in other countries and territories too, Amazon Prime will be broadcasting Picard. Why are they not also showing this episode of Short Treks? Children of Mars wasn’t the best Short Treks has had to offer this season – spoiler alert for the review below, I guess – but it is a part of the Picard story, and one which at the very least would remind people that the show is coming and get people paying attention. With only a short time left until Picard premieres, now is the time for ViacomCBS to pull out all the stops and get the word out about this series.

Short Treks as a concept was designed for this very reason – to keep the Star Trek brand alive in the public mind while the main shows were in between seasons. And Children of Mars is literally made to be a teaser to get people excited for Picard.

With CBS All Access in a difficult market, and running an in-house streaming platform being an incredibly expensive endeavour at the best of times, Star Trek since 2017 has only been financially stable thanks to outside investment – first from Netflix, who essentially paid for all of Discovery‘s first season, and later from Amazon Prime, who snapped up the rights to Picard. Star Trek’s international audience is big – at the very least equal in number to the audience in the United States, and quite possibly bigger. Yet despite all of these factors, Short Treks hasn’t been made available to us, and despite the fact that the sale of international broadcast rights has been essential to Star Trek’s continued production in the wake of CBS All Access’ shaky market hold at home, ViacomCBS treats its international audience like second-class citizens. They don’t care about us, yet without our viewership, the money they’ve been getting from companies like Netflix, Amazon, and other broadcasters like Channel 4 would dry up, leaving not only the Star Trek brand but CBS All Access itself in a very perilous position.

This remains a source of considerable disappointment.

But that’s enough about that for now. When I tracked down a copy, I sat down to watch Children of Mars, and finally, for the first time since Nemesis in 2002 and brief scenes in Star Trek in 2009, we were back in the 24th Century.

Utopia Planitia as seen in Children of Mars.

Not that that was immediately obvious. Short Treks has worked very well in the past by reusing Discovery‘s sets, but obviously for a short-format show there’s a limited budget and not much scope to build whole new sets. And in this case, that was painfully apparent. The building representing the school had a definite modern-day feel throughout, despite the CGI trappings of the 24th Century, and unfortunately that was noticeable to me. Star Trek has always had a distinctively futuristic aesthetic, and even though the look has changed and evolved significantly between its 1960s origins and its more recent iterations, there were not many moments where as the audience we were knocked out of the future because what we were looking at looked like something from today. Children of Mars absolutely has this issue, and it runs through the entire episode.

Indeed many of the aesthetic choices are strange by Star Trek standards. The school uniforms would be just as at home in the modern day, and had no Star Trek elements at all. We’ve seen countless civilian and non-Starfleet outfits in Star Trek, but none looked like this. Again, it was a modern day school uniform with a white polo shirt and red blazer. And maybe this is a minor point and up for debate, but would 24th Century schoolkids need big school bags like those depicted in the short episode? On its own I wouldn’t have noticed, but as an accessory to a bland, modern day school uniform on kids running around a perfectly nice but definitely contemporary building, it just added to the impression that this wasn’t the 24th Century after all.

There’s also the fact that a significant portion of the first half of the episode has its soundtrack taken over by a modern pop song, which again adds to the feeling that we’re watching something from our own time with a few bits of CGI tacked on.

Transport shuttle from Children of Mars.

It’s difficult to tell a compelling story in less than eight minutes, and I understand that for budget reasons we aren’t going to be running around a brand new, never-before-seen starship and interacting with dozens of characters. My expectations for an episode like this are kept in check. But even so, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed.

It’s no criticism of the two young actresses, who gave fine performances, but they didn’t really have much to say, and all we really got for more than half the total runtime was a kind of overly-artistic, soundtrack-heavy sequence of two girls making their way to school. During which I just remember thinking to myself that “this doesn’t feel like Star Trek.”

So the basic premise is that there are these two girls who each have at least one parent who works at Utopia Planitia. If you don’t remember from previous iterations of Star Trek, Utopia Planitia is one of Starfleet’s biggest shipyards, and it’s on/orbiting Mars. It’s never fully shown on screen, but it has been referenced a number of times across several different series. Anyway, one of the girls is an alien – maybe from the same species as Tilly’s friend Po from the Short Treks episode Runaway, which fed into Discovery‘s second season. The other at least appears to be human.

I think we were meant to get the impression from the girls’ conversations with their parents that there’s some kind of class difference. One of the parents is an “anti-grav rigger”, and the other is a “quality systems supervisor”. It’s not clear, especially because both parents seemed to be dressed in engineering gear – complete with helmets – but I think we’re supposed to infer that Lil’s family is perhaps the Star Trek equivalent of the middle class, and Kima’s is working class. It seems like they were going for that, at least.

The majority of the episode doesn’t take place on Mars itself, as the girls seem to be living and/or going to school on another planet. I want to say on Earth, but this isn’t clear at all and realistically it could be any one of a number of Federation worlds. Lil’s dad tells her he’s too busy with work to come home, and she heads to school in a sulk, deliberately pushing Kima on her way to the shuttle, causing the latter girl to miss the shuttle. Kima eventually gets to school and the two girls continue their rivalry, silently bickering with each other until eventually a fight breaks out for which they’re both in trouble.

The way this was done was fine, it paints Lil as more of the aggressor than Kima, but ultimately they’re both responsible for continuing the feud and escalating it. As a work of characterisation it’s okay given the short timeframe and by the episode’s climax we know the girls greatly dislike one another.

As they sit a few metres apart in the school’s lobby area, either in detention or waiting for punishment, a couple of the teachers receive a message on handheld communicators. The message is soon broadcast all over the school, and shows a significant attack on Mars.

The stingray ships of the “rogue synths” attacking Mars in Children of Mars.

The vessels engaged in the attack aren’t any we’ve seen before, and it would be pure speculation to try to identify them. But hey, that sounds like fun so let’s do that. They’re described on-screen as “rogue synths”, but that doesn’t tell us anything of their origins. Purely from the design of the vessels, which had a kind of stingray-esque shape, my first thought was Klingons. I could see that shape of vessel being a natural progression from the Klingon ships of the 24th Century. But then we know Picard is going to deal with the Romulans, and that Utopia Planitia is building a fleet to help Romulans, so maybe it was a faction in the Empire opposed to Federation help. I could see vessels of that design being Romulan – again as a natural evolution from their 24th Century ships that we’ve already seen. I don’t think it was the Borg, as I can’t see them using ships of that type, nor carrying out an attack of this type. Their style has always been to assimilate instead of exterminate, so this wouldn’t fit. The other possibility is that these are Federation ships – or ex-Federation ships commandeered by a new breakaway faction like the Maquis.

The stingray ships, as I’m calling them for now, are by far the most interesting ship designs from Children of Mars. The Federation ships being built at Utopia Planitia – as glimpsed briefly at the beginning of the episode – looked decidedly 23rd Century to my eyes. They looked like ships better suited to the Discovery era than the Picard era, and considering it was all CGI I don’t really see why that had to be the case. For nostalgia’s sake they could’ve easily dropped a Galaxy-class or Excelsior-class ship in there instead of the Discovery-esque ships that we ultimately saw, as that would’ve avoided revealing too much about Picard-era ships if that was a concern for whatever reason.

Admiral Picard’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Children of Mars.

The CGI work for the shipyard and later for the attack on Mars was decent. Not cinema-level, perhaps, but good enough not to be immersion-breaking. At the end of the day, that’s its basic job and it accomplished it successfully, so credit to the animators involved for that. The way that the stingray ships seemed to glide while in flight was great, their motion was clearly unlike any heavier-than-air craft we have in the modern day, so that was a high point of the animation for me.

Children of Mars will feed into the events of Star Trek: Picard, though exactly how is unclear. Short Treks has had a strange relationship with the main Star Trek shows thus far, with some episodes like Calypso and The Escape Artist being true one-shots that didn’t tie into anything else in Discovery, and others like Runaway where a main character crossed over. It isn’t clear yet how this story will affect Picard, and whether the two girls featured, or their parents, will make an appearance. If I had to guess I’d say probably not, and that this episode was just a vehicle to communicate the attack on Mars, but we’ll see in a couple of weeks I suppose!

Unfortunately, Children of Mars didn’t tell the kind of story that I personally find very interesting. The attack on Mars itself will be significant for Star Trek: Picard, and in that sense I’m glad to have seen it and been aware of it. However, the majority of the episode wasn’t about that. Indeed the attack sequence takes up little more than one minute in total. The bulk of the story is the tension between the two girls, which immediately evaporates when they realise what’s going on.

And as a story concept, that’s fine. It’s nice to see two people who weren’t friends come together in the face of a crisis. As they hold hands at the end of the episode, it marks the end of their childish fighting, and because of the severity of what’s happened, arguably the end of their childhoods too.

Perhaps a short format wasn’t right for this story, or perhaps the episode spent too long building up the enmity and fighting before getting to the resolution, because the girls coming together at the end and just letting go of all their anger toward one another didn’t feel like it was earned or that it was plausible. And I know what some people would say, that looking for plausible outcomes in a Short Treks episode is too much. But Children of Mars presented itself this way, as an artistic-inspired, character-centred story. So how the only two characters involved in that story go from enemies to friends in a single moment is the absolute crux of the story, and it’s the part we should rightly be focused on.

I get what the director was going for. This was a story that wanted to say “people can put their petty arguments and rivalries aside in the face of catastrophe, and come together.” It’s an inspiring message of the kind Star Trek has always been good at delivering. But something about the overly-artistic way it was presented, with practically no dialogue, a heavy soundtrack, and stylised camera work just didn’t work for me. And the ultimate pay-off when the girls realise that they have to come together didn’t work either as a plausible outcome. As an artistic outcome, and as a philosophical outcome, sure, it makes perfect sense. But if we’re to treat the girls as real characters inhabiting this fictional galaxy, I just didn’t feel that they had gotten to a place by the end of the episode that the attack on Mars would bring them together in that way. Did they even know each other had a parent stationed there? That detail would’ve built up the emotional bond between them, but because it wasn’t made clear on screen how well they knew each other or if they knew about each other’s family, that moment was robbed of some of its dramatic effect.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical of a short episode. But this is the way ViacomCBS chose to present the “prequel” to Picard. They didn’t have to do it this way, they could’ve told literally any story they wanted if all it had to do was be a vehicle for showing off that Mars was attacked in the years prior to Picard. That they chose this story about fighting schoolgirls was an artistic one, and I respect that. It just didn’t come across as a strong story on its own, at least in my opinion. The sequence where Mars comes under attack is worth watching for anyone intent on tuning in for Star Trek: Picard, but as I said it’s barely a minute long, and the rest of the episode, while interesting in concept, ends up being little more than fluff.

Maybe we’ll see these characters again, if they crop up later in Picard. At this point that’s not confirmed, but if they do then maybe the episode will get some more context and will be worth a rewatch at that point. I kind of hope that turns out to be the case, because I feel Children of Mars is quite a weak story when taken as a standalone piece.

The aesthetic and design issues certainly hampered it too, and it would have been better to redress a Discovery set for the schoolroom than use whatever contemporary building they ended up going with.

Both the starships being constructed and the transport shuttle to take the children to school were both very much in the same style as Discovery. While I like that look overall, it’s a 23rd Century look, is it not? We should surely have seen some kind of change between Discovery and the era of Picard, and if they didn’t want to go to the trouble of making all new models and designs, it would have been better in my opinion to reuse some of the TNG-era designs than fall back on those from the Discovery era. I think seeing a familiar starship or shuttle design would’ve also been a nice little wink to returning fans.

Unless Children of Mars has a more significant relationship with Star Trek: Picard than I’m assuming at present, I’m in no hurry to watch it again. It was okay, but it wasn’t Short Treks‘ finest offering by any means, and as both a tie-in to Picard and a first look at the 24th Century really since 2002, it was a bit of a let-down.

The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks and Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Children of Mars is available to stream in the United States on CBS All Access – but not anywhere else at time of writing. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Is a post-apocalyptic setting right for Star Trek?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks.

The trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIKAkge9Trg

In both the Short Treks episode Calypso and in the trailer for the upcoming third season of Star Trek: Discovery, we are given the impression that all is not well in the Star Trek galaxy. In Calypso, main character Craft tells the AI Zora of a war he’s involved in, and he later needs to use one of the USS Discovery’s shuttlecrafts to get home – his pod being slower and less advanced than a thousand-year-old shuttlecraft says a lot about the state of technology in this timeline.

Whether or not Calypso is fully canon, or whether its timeline has changed, and whenever it’s supposed to be set, if the trailer for Discovery Season 3 has correctly portrayed the environment they’re heading into and isn’t an elaborate deception, it seems that whatever era the ship and crew ultimately arrive in is also one where war and disaster have occurred. But is this kind of post-apocalyptic setting right for Star Trek?

The last few years have seen a glut of shows, films, games, and books choosing a post-apocalyptic environment. And many of these have been great – I Am Legend is a great film, The Last Ship is a great television series, and The Last Of Us is a great game, just to give three examples. Major franchises like The Walking Dead have helped popularise this sub-genre, and it’s become a popular choice for a lot of storytellers.It’s easy to see why – this kind of setting lends itself to high-stakes drama, and forcing characters to make life-or-death decisions. When survival is at stake, characters need to step up in order to just make it through the day, and that can be a strong driving force in any narrative when it’s done correctly.

The kind of post-apocalypse we seemed to glimpse in the trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 might not quite be at that same level, where it’s day-to-day surviving at the end of the world, but it certainly seems as though something absolutely massive has happened since we last saw the galaxy in the 2380s. Whenever the USS Discovery emerges from the time-wormhole it entered at the end of Season 2, it seems they’re heading into a challenging environment. In the trailer, we saw an official who seemed to represent the Federation saying that Discovery was his last hope, and unfurling a flag with a Federation crest that seemed to be missing many stars – perhaps indicating the loss or secession of planets from the alliance. The Starfleet badge Burnham was wearing was referred to as a “ghost”, and Saru, in a pep talk to the crew, tells them they need to “make the future bright”. All of which strongly imply that the Federation in this era is in serious trouble – if it still exists at all.

But what’s just as telling from the trailer is what we didn’t see. Where was all of the new technology that should surely have been invented by then? At one point, Burnham and a new character are walking across a landscape – why could they not transport from point to point like we’ve seen across Star Trek (and especially with the “transwarp beaming” concept from the Kelvin films)? The weapons used in the trailer also seem to be little more than energy weapons already known to exist, and we didn’t see any new starships or stations or anything that indicated the galaxy has advanced significantly. In a few episodes of Star Trek in the past, particularly in Voyager and Enterprise, we’ve had glimpses of the Federation in the 29th and 30th Centuries – and it seemed not only to be doing great but to have time-travelling starships, and that time travel was so common a concept that it was taught in schools. In short, where is the technology?

Wars and conflicts, especially long ones, can be devastating. But from war, technology often emerges. In the real world, as destructive as WWII was, it led to the development of such things as rockets and computers. So even if the Star Trek galaxy plunged into war in the 32nd or 33rd Centuries, we should still see at least the level of tech they’d got to before the war, and perhaps the emergence of new tech as a result of research during it. The fact that nothing of the sort was in evidence is interesting, and that’s why I’m calling the setting “post-apocalyptic”. At the end of the day, if people of the 32nd or 33rd Centuries are living with a 23rd Century level of technology, that would be a huge backwards step for them, even if it still looks cool and futuristic to us. If we were sent back technologically to the 1950s or 1960s, that would look incredibly impressive to a Victorian, but would feel apocalyptic to us. It’s that principle that feels like it’s in play with Discovery.

Regardless of the exact details of how far technology has advanced or regressed by the 32nd/33rd Century (assuming that’s when Discovery is going to be set – see my previous article for my thoughts on that) it certainly seems from the trailer that something big has happened. The Star Trek galaxy and the Federation are not where we would have expected them to be. Is the Federation in decline? Has it broken up altogether? It’s not clear, but it is definitely facing huge difficulties if the “best hope” they’ve had in years is a 930-year-old ship and crew.

In a media landscape dominated by war and aggression, Star Trek has always shown a more positive vision of the future. Where The Terminator and The Matrix showed us rogue AIs killing humanity, Star Trek showed us Data, the friendly android. Where Star Wars had an evil empire ruling the galaxy with an iron fist, Star Trek had an enlightened democratic society. And where Twelve Monkeys and 28 Days Later had humanity on the brink of extinction, Star Trek showed humankind flourishing, having overcome countless obstacles. As Trip Tucker puts it in Enterprise: “war, disease, hunger – pretty much wiped them out in less than two generations.” This, to me, is the core of what makes Star Trek what it is. And I don’t necessarily think that gels with a post-apocalyptic setting.

Partly, Star Trek’s optimism is a product of its 1960s origins. At the height of the Cold War, there was the legitimate possibility of nuclear war causing the end of human civilisation, and with TOS premiering a mere four years after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world as close to that fate as it arguably ever came, the need for optimism was great. But that optimistic approach has been a constant thread running through the franchise ever since. It’s been the one consistent thing in all of Star Trek, even at the height of the Dominion War in DS9, humanity was still there, and Earth was still a paradise worth fighting for. The drama in that story came from the existential threat to the optimistic future humanity had built, not from that future already being torn down. That’s what made it work as an exciting narrative within the framework of Star Trek’s optimistic take on the future.

A post-apocalyptic setting is, by its very nature, the exact opposite. Where Star Trek has presented an optimistic vision of humanity overcoming obstacle after obstacle, any post-apocalyptic setting says that the obstacles got the better of us. We went up against something – be it a disease, technology, warfare, etc. – and lost. Star Trek says that whatever life threw at us, we came out on top. That cannot be true in a post-apocalyptic setting, where we will have lost.

This represents a fundamental change to the nature of storytelling within the Star Trek franchise, greater than arguably any change made thus far. Enterprise took the franchise backwards in its own timeline, the Kelvin films were not only an alternate reality but changed the storytelling to be more action-heavy. But even these are not as major as changing the entire underlying premise of a positive vision of humanity’s future. In both 2009’s Star Trek and Enterprise, as well as the Dominion War arc of DS9 mentioned above, the basic concept that humanity had not simply survived but was thriving in the future was unchanged. The drama, tension, and narratives all came from challenges humanity faced within that framework, not that we’d failed or that something had beaten us.

Such a significant change risks Star Trek losing its uniqueness and, from a commercial point of view, one of its key selling points. Without its positive vision of humanity’s future, a fundamental part of Star Trek is missing – and without it, will the franchise still work? If Star Trek loses the one thing that makes it stand out, and continues its transition to primarily action-oriented stories, it risks becoming just another work in the generic sci fi and/or post-apocalyptic genres, losing its uniqueness and fading into the mass of action/sci fi franchises which already occupy that space.

Some fans would claim that this has already happened, due to a combination of the Kelvin timeline, Discovery, and even Enterprise taking the franchise to different places and by modernising the storytelling. But that alone isn’t enough to fundamentally change Star Trek. And at the core of Discovery and the Kelvin films, that optimism and positive outlook was still present, even if it wasn’t front-and-centre in the way it had been in prior series.

Taking a bleak setting, where the Federation is shattered and life for humankind is going backwards just doesn’t feel like Star Trek. Perhaps it could be a solidly entertaining sci fi series, but one of the core tenets of Star Trek would be lacking, and I’m certain that would be noticeable.

There’s another problem with this post-apocalyptic theme, too. As things sit right now, Discovery is the only Star Trek series taking place in that time period. Picard and Lower Decks both take place after Nemesis, and the Section 31 series is assumed to take place in the era Discovery left behind. With a second season of Picard on order now, all of these series will basically be prequels to Discovery – and if we see Picard and his crew fighting for the future of the Federation, when we know that actually the Federation has no future because we’ve seen in Discovery that things go very, very wrong, there’ll be a sense of “well what’s the point of this?”

I wrote previously how splitting Star Trek up into three timelines and two parallel realities is a bad decision for a franchise. With three live-action series in production practically simultaneously, there’s just no way to make them line up, let alone allow for any crossover of characters, plot points, and themes. It will make it harder for fans of one show to jump across to another, and will put off new fans altogether at a time when the shaky nature of CBS All Access in the midst of the “streaming wars” means they need those people more than ever. And having one show set in a future that’s potentially saying that everything that happens in the other shows comes to nothing is bleak, depressing, and offputting for both fans and casual viewers alike.

Now that all that’s been said, it should be pointed out that the trailer for Discovery‘s third season may be deliberately misleading, having been cut in a certain way. There are other explanations for what we saw in the trailer that don’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that we’re looking at a fractured Federation and a post-apocalyptic setting. And we won’t know for sure what’s in store until we see Discovery on our screens later in the year. But of all the seasons of Discovery so far, this is the one that has me feeling the most nervous. I want the show to succeed because I want the franchise to succeed so we can continue to enjoy new stories in the Star Trek galaxy for a long time to come. I’m just not convinced that this is the way to do it. And by abandoning one of the core parts of what makes Star Trek, well, Star Trek, the producers are taking a massive risk that could backfire.

As I’ve said several times before, I dislike the expression “nobody asked for this”. And there are two reasons for that: firstly, plenty of shows and films that “nobody asked for” actually turn out to be phenomenal. And secondly, because in a lot of online fan communities, the things that people are actually wanting and asking for are absolute crap. So in principle, the fact that I wouldn’t have chosen this route for Discovery and the Star Trek franchise doesn’t necessarily make it invalid or mean it will be bad. And I hope to be pleasantly surprised, because I’m always hopeful that new Star Trek will be enjoyable. But at the moment, I’m just not convinced it’s the best idea.

So what would I have rather seen? Anyone can complain and whine about what they don’t like, but not enough people are proactive in putting their own ideas forward for what they’d do instead. It’s easy to be negative and tear down someone’s ideas, but it’s much harder to imagine and create something.

So stop by next time and I’ll throw some concepts your way, both for Discovery and for the Star Trek franchise in general.

The Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery, is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Star Trek: Discovery is available on Netflix in the UK and around the world, and on CBS All Access in the United States. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Season 3 of Discovery – when is it set?

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek Discovery and Short Treks.

At the end of Season 2 of Discovery, Burnham led the ship and crew into a time-wormhole. For better or worse, they’re leaving the 23rd Century behind and heading into the future – but when, exactly? And how will it affect the rest of the Star Trek franchise now that there are other series joining Discovery on the roster?

Let’s start off by looking at the currently-announced Star Trek series and their supposed timeframes in the Star Trek universe.

Firstly we have Star Trek Picard, taking place in approximately 2399, as the 25th Century dawns. Then there’s Lower Decks, set in the 2380s. Next we have the Section 31 series, which is supposed to be set in the mid-23rd Century, possibly overlapping with TOS. Already that’s two very different time periods, and three concurrent timelines running within the Star Trek franchise. And in addition to these prime timeline settings there’s the alternate reality, where a fourth film is currently in pre-production, further complicating matters.

If we’re to believe the ending of the second season of Discovery, the ship and crew have travelled into the far future – the late 32nd or early 33rd Century, depending on how literally one takes “950 years” when it’s spoken in Discovery Season 2. So that would a third distinct time period, and one which would potentially undermine every other Star Trek series currently in production, as well as making the franchise overly complicated for newcomers.

CBS All Access, if it’s going to survive as a platform as the “streaming wars” ramp up, needs to bring in as wide an audience as possible. Realistically, most people who tuned in for Discovery are not hard-core Star Trek fans. They’re not the kind of people who argue about the length of time for subspace messages to travel from Earth to the Borg Collective in the 2060s, or who wonder why Tom Paris’ dad had a picture of him with him combadge on the wrong side framed on his desk. Most folks are casual viewers, tuning in to see an episode then moving on and doing other things. Having three entirely different time periods for one franchise risks being confusing and putting off those casual viewers who make up the bulk of any television audience.

In addition, setting Discovery in the far-future will adversely affect all the other Star Trek series currently in production – by essentially turning them into prequels. As a concept, some prequels can work. Rogue One, for example, is a great film and a direct prequel to the first Star Wars. But many prequels are robbed of a significant amount of tension and drama because we already know the outcome. In Enterprise‘s third season, the crew were facing down an existential threat to the Earth in the form of the Xindi’s planet-destroying superweapon. But having seen Earth in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, it was already known to most of the audience that there was no real danger. Thus, the storyline – while still arguably one of Enterprise‘s best – wasn’t as dramatic or edge-of-your-seat exhilarating as it could’ve been if an identical story had been made as a sequel set after Star Trek Nemesis.

By moving Discovery to a far-future setting, in which some form of galactic government and humanity still exist, any significant, galaxy-ending threat in Picard, Lower Decks, or the Section 31 series immediately loses much of its drama in the same way as the Xindi story. It constrains the direction of any future series, because we already know what direction the galaxy is headed. How we get there might be interesting – though Discovery will be under immense pressure to explain much of that backstory itself – but when the destination is known there are only so many options for the journey to take.

Unless the plan is for all of Star Trek to quickly shift to a 33rd Century setting as well, leaving behind almost everything we’ve known thus far, it seems like a bad storytelling decision – one which is sadly motivated by the vocal minority of fans who disliked Discovery‘s place in canon. And trying to run a franchise with three different timelines all running simultaneously will be a daunting task for Alex Kurtzman and others, not to mention that it precludes the possibility of cameos and crossovers.

As Deep Space Nine was getting established early on in its run, there were several crossovers with The Next Generation, which was also on the air at the same time. And Voyager also brought in settings, concepts, and characters from TNG and DS9. Those three shows all overlapped and all shared a single timeline, making it easy for fans to jump between series without getting confused, and with the ability to bring across even major characters like Worf. Aside from a dwindling number of fans who love only TOS, I think most people agree that the TNG era – including DS9 and Voyager – was the “golden age” of Star Trek. Current and upcoming series are trying to reach and surpass those heights, but may find themselves hampered by the decision to split up the timelines.

One of the biggest things getting people excited for Star Trek Picard are the cameos from returning main characters. And this isn’t something exclusive to Star Trek, either. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, crossovers and character cameos are a big deal, and that franchise is arguably the most successful in recent history. By having practically all of its titles in one timeline and one setting, Marvel’s superheroes can cross over from film to film, and fans can skip an entry and still be able to largely follow what’s going on without having to be brought up to speed. I hadn’t watched most of the films preceding Avengers Infinity War and Endgame, but I could still follow what was going on because it was familiar. A casual Star Trek fan who enjoyed Discovery trying to jump into Lower Decks might find themselves confused by the change in timelines, and that might be sufficiently offputting to stop watching. Having to have a chart or graphic to explain where each new series fits in the timeline means that the whole thing is convoluted – and that absolutely will put people off.

So those are the two biggest issues which stem from Discovery heading into the far future: the overly-complicated timeline situation, and the fact that any prequel series potentially loses a portion of its dramatic effect.

The solution is complicated, and would require a either a retcon of parts of the ending of Season 2, or yet another time travel story. So then, either the USS Discovery travels into the far future, then somehow comes back to the 25th Century, or it never travels into the far future at all. The latter is by far the more preferable outcome, as it would allow the series to tie in with Picard, and any future series and films set in that era. Star Trek should be aiming to bring its series together into one single timeline, and the ending of Discovery‘s second season actually gives them a great way to do so.

Instead of travelling 950 years into the future, the USS Discovery would emerge in the Picard era, perhaps in an area of space far away from the Federation or where Federation jurisdiction is in question. Nothing from the Season 3 trailer that premiered a few months ago is contradicted by a setting like that, and in my opinion it would allow for future Star Trek shows to work better as one single franchise, with related – if separate – stories. As things stand, the franchise is fractured by the huge gaps in its timeline between series, and aside from the briefest of references it won’t be possible to have any crossings over.

It would be easy to explain, as well. The Red Angel suit and/or Discovery herself malfunctioned, causing the time-wormhole to collapse before they had exited, thrusting both Burnham and the ship into the early 25th Century. That whole situation could be cleared up inside of the first ten minutes, and whatever we saw in the trailer could just as easily be taking place around the same time as Picard.

Part of Discovery‘s problem has always been its place in canon. I mentioned before the vocal minority of fans who’ve taken it on themselves to be hate mongers of the series and everything about it, but the show itself has provided them the ammunition. The silly thing is that there was no reason to make it that way – nothing about the first two seasons of Discovery would have changed if it were a sequel series, aside from a handful of TOS-era characters. The Mirror Universe plot would have been fine, either by saying the Terran Empire had reformed after the events of DS9 or by setting it in a different parallel reality. And the time travel/Red Angel plot would’ve worked too, and there’d have been no reason to end it by sending the ship away.

In a similar way to how Disney and Lucasfilm have approached the Star Wars sequels, it seems from the way Discovery and the other new Star Trek shows have been rolled out that ViacomCBS hasn’t had a consistent approach, nor really had any idea of what direction to take the rejuvenated franchise. The result in the case of the Star Wars films has been a failed prequel, a complete mess of a trilogy lacking a cohesive story, and one standalone film that was brilliant almost by accident. I hope the same fate isn’t in store for Star Trek, or the franchise could disappear just as quickly as it was renewed. At the end of the day, ViacomCBS brought Star Trek back for basically one reason – it was the biggest property they owned with the best name recognition, and they wanted to launch their own version of Netflix to try to get a piece of the streaming action. But if CBS All Access continues to struggle (at this point it’s not clear whether it’s actually been profitable or has a pathway to becoming profitable) there’s no reason for ViacomCBS to keep making new Star Trek. After all, what would be the point?

The Short Treks episode from its first season, Calypso, comes into play when talking about the direction Discovery could and should go.

Calypso is set after the USS Discovery has been abandoned for almost a millennium, and a human character – or at least, someone we assume to be human – comes aboard. Discovery’s computer has evolved into a full artificial intelligence, complete with emotions, but we don’t learn the stardate or exactly when it’s supposed to take place. If Discovery sets its third season in the 33rd Century, 1,000 years later would be the 43rd Century, which would set Calypso far beyond anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. And that still could be its setting, there’s nothing to say that doesn’t work in the context of Discovery setting itself in the far future. But it was interesting that this episode premiered just prior to the season where the USS Discovery and her crew also end up further ahead in the timeline from anything else we’ve seen before. Some people have suggested a connection, or that the galaxy we glimpsed in Calypso is the one Discovery will enter in Season 3.

There are some superficial similarities based on the trailer – both settings exclude Starfleet and suggest that the Federation isn’t present, both feature humans who are at war or in conflict, and both suggest that the level of technology present aboard Discovery is either roughly equal to that which exists in the future or is perhaps even something future people would covet. So is Discovery‘s third season perhaps in the Calypso timeline, and if it is, how would Calypso itself be explained given that the USS Discovery was abandoned? There are a lot of loose ends to tie up there.

It seems to me that at the time Calypso was being made, Discovery‘s future was in jeopardy, or at least in doubt. This would explain why Calypso exists as an epilogue – almost certainly one to an alternate ending for Season 2 where the ship is abandoned. If that had been one option the writers were considering, Calypso makes perfect sense. As things stand now, it’s a bit of an outlier.

I really feel that bringing together Discovery and Picard somehow is a great option for Star Trek, and because of the nature of time travel stories it would be possible to do so in a convincing way that doesn’t feel too forced. Discovery has been a great reboot for Star Trek on television and it deserves more success than it’s arguably had thus far. But the time has come for Star Trek to stop looking back at its own past and do what it’s always done best – press ahead into the future. And if the future is the Picard era – which makes the most sense – then finding a way to tie Discovery to that is what needs to happen.

Whether I can call it a “theory” or not is questionable, because at the end of the day the most likely outcome is that Discovery does what everyone has said it will do and head into that far future setting. But my hope and/or my preference would be that it doesn’t. I don’t think it necessarily needed to leave the 23rd Century, and keeping it in that same setting would have allowed for some crossover with the Section 31 series. But if it has to leave and go into the future, ending up around the time of Picard just makes so much more sense.

If we think about technological progress in the Star Trek galaxy, in roughly 200 years we’ve gone from the tech available on the NX-01 Enterprise, with limited warp speeds and basic weapons, through Kirk’s time and greater exploration of the Alpha Quadrant, into the 24th Century with holodecks, slipstream drives, and the rollout of time travel. The level of technological change in 200-odd years is massive. Representing on-screen the level of change between the 24th and 33rd Centuries will be a huge challenge, and if the tech available to future Federation citizens in the 33rd Century looks oddly identical to that of the Picard era – and thanks to visual effects it will at least look similar – then that will have to be explained somehow. And from the trailer, it looks like Discovery is launching into an almost post-apocalyptic setting… that’s one way to explain it. But is it a good way to explain it? I don’t know. I’m not convinced post-apocalyptic Star Trek is what I want to see, and at the end of the day all of this speculation and hope is down to that fact. If Discovery couldn’t continue in its 23rd Century setting, then at the very least I’d much rather see it connect with Picard than try to explain why the future is so grim and technology has stagnated.

Whether it happens or not, I don’t know. I doubt it, but I still think that putting Discovery in that era gives the show and the franchise more options and better options than going such a long way into the future, beyond everything we’ve seen.

I had more to say on the potential for a post-apocalyptic setting, but I’ll save that for next time.

Live Long and Prosper!

As a final note, I just want to say that more Star Trek is always better than less or none, and whatever Discovery does and wherever it goes, I will always tune in to see what’s happening. As a fan, I’ll always want to see more and spend more time in that world.

The Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Short Treks, are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animated Star Trek is back!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the plots of both Ephraim and Dot and The Girl Who Made The Stars, as well as for Star Trek: Discovery. If you want to avoid spoilers, turn back now!

Star Trek: The Animated Series ran for two seasons in 1973-74. It featured the voice talent of most of the original cast (sans Walter Koenig), but since then Star Trek has stuck to live-action series and films. Until, that is, the latest two episodes of Short Treks, which were released a couple of days ago.

At least they were for Trekkies in the United States – ViacomCBS apparently places no value on its overseas fans. But let’s not get into that right now, because these two episodes were absolutely fantastic.

After I was finally able to track down copies, I watched The Girl Who Made The Stars first, as I thought I probably wouldn’t find it as interesting as the other episode, Ephraim and Dot. But The Girl Who Made The Stars was a cute, Disney-esque bedtime story, told by Michael Burnham’s father to her when she was a child. I got a distinct Moana vibe from this short episode, which tells of a young girl who teaches her tribe of ancient humans to overcome their fear of the night – aided, in true Star Trek fashion, by an ethereal alien.

The unnamed little girl in The Girl Who Made The Stars.

As in Moana, the key to defeating what the tribe’s elders called the Night Beast wasn’t violence, and hiding away from it didn’t help either. It took someone to be bold and head out beyond the safety of the tribe’s valley to overcome the imagined monster. How much of the episode was actually based on African legends is something I don’t know, but this was a uniquely Star Trek look at history and at Africa. Framed as a bedtime story, I’m certain we aren’t supposed to take the episode’s main plot as canonical, but it was an interesting look at Michael Burnham’s childhood. Burnham has been in some respects a hard protagonist to get behind in Star Trek: Discovery. Partly that’s a consequence of her internal struggle between a logical Vulcan upbringing and human emotion, which she has at times seemed to be confused with. And partly, it has to be said, it’s a consequence of a character whose motivations – especially in Discovery‘s premiere – were impossible to follow and understand. This short episode doesn’t change anything fundamental about her character, but it does show the audience that she’s human at her core. Something which may be important as Discovery travels to unknown destinations next season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this bedtime story referred to, perhaps inspiring her to lead Discovery’s crew and/or the Federation in season 3.

The other episode was absolutely adorable. Ephraim and Dot told the story of a tardigrade, the species seen in season 1 of Discovery, laying its eggs. After trying to find a warm place, the tardigrade chooses the warp core of the Enterprise – by this time under Kirk’s command. We see an animated recreation of the TOS engine room, and this is where Ephraim (as I assume she’s called, she’s never named on-screen) lays her eggs, only to be kicked off the ship by Dot – an R2D2 or BB8-type droid, seemingly employed on the Enterprise to perform menial tasks and jobs humans wouldn’t be able to do.

Ephraim and DOT.

The episode then launches into a brief “greatest hits” of the Enterprise under Kirk’s command. We see Khan waking up in sickbay from Space Seed, the hand of Apollo, Sulu brandishing his sword, the Planet Killer from The Doomsday Machine, and a recreation of Lincoln featured in the episode The Savage Curtain. As the sequence continues, we see the refit Enterprise fighting Khan’s Reliant in The Wrath of Khan before Ephraim finally manages to scramble back aboard, just as the Enterprise is set to be destroyed over the Genesis Planet in The Search for Spock.

I’m going to let you guys in on a secret – I got legitimately emotional at this point. As Ephraim races to save her eggs from the crippled, soon-to-be-destroyed ship I was literally on the edge of my seat. And when Dot got to her first and threw her overboard yet again, I felt a real emotional stab. I’ve always been a sucker for animals in films and television, and the cute way Ephraim is styled here no doubt contributed to that.

Luckily, at the last minute Dot realises that the eggs are on board and manages to save them, delivering the newly-hatched babies to Ephraim after the ship has exploded. The two then disappear into the Mycelial Network – perhaps laying the groundwork for a future episode or an appearance in one of the two new animated shows? Gosh I hope so.

Ephraim embraces DOT.

These two episodes were absolutely unlike anything Star Trek has done before – at least not since some of the weirder episodes of The Animated Series in the 1970s saw a 50-foot-tall clone of Spock, or the Enterprise visiting a parallel universe where magic is real. Yes, those really happened. And yes, they’re canon. Deal with it.

These episodes were undoubtedly inspired by Disney – the storytelling, the use of animals, cute robots, and a child as the main characters all come together to make these the most child-friendly Star Trek episodes so far, as well as a fantastic way to introduce little ones to Star Trek. Ephraim and Dot in particular contained some very funny moments, complete with traditional cartoon sound effects. At one point, Ephraim is sucked into a tube and bounces through it, with the tube bulging out in a throwback to old-school cartoons.

The little girl and the alien in The Girl Who Made The Stars.

But at their core, these were just cute, heartfelt episodes. I’m sure that people who haven’t enjoyed modern Star Trek will hate them, and that’s fine because at this point those folks hate just about everything. Both of these episodes have something to say about Star Trek. Yes, characters are important. Yes, alien races and cool ship battles and the politics of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants are important. But at its core, Star Trek is about inspiring stories, and seeking out new life. The Girl Who Made The Stars tells such a story, and Ephraim and Dot takes a look at one example of the kind of new life that Starfleet has been seeking. And these episodes are presented in a cute, fun, approachable way. Show them to anyone sceptical of Star Trek and I bet they’d come away thinking about the franchise in a whole new light.

Overall, Ephraim and Dot and The Girl Who Made The Stars leave me hopeful that the new animated series – Lower Decks – is in good hands and will turn out to be a lot of fun. And moreover, that the currently-untitled animated series that’s supposed to be more kid-friendly will also have something to offer to adult fans like myself. The best kids’ shows manage to find a way to appeal to us too, and from these shorts, I feel like there’s a real chance that the new series will absolutely have something to offer older Trekkies.

Star Trek animation is back – with a bang!

There’s only one episode left in this season of Short Treks – and it’s set to be a prequel of sorts, leading into Star Trek: Picard. So I can’t wait to see that. And Picard is coming next month! It really is a great time to be a Star Trek fan right now.

The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Short Treks is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and is now available on Blu-ray elsewhere. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.